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Neustar’s .co contract up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2019, Domain Registries

Colombia is looking for a registry operator for its .co ccTLD.

If you’re interested, and you’re reading this before noon on Wednesday November 6 and you’re at ICANN 66 in Montreal, hightail it to room 514A for a presentation from the Colombian government that will be more informative than this blog post.

Hurry! Come on! Move it!

The Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MinTIC) has published a set of documents describing some of the plan to find a potentially new home for .co.

There doesn’t appear to be a formal RFP yet, but I gather one is imminent.

What the documents do tell us is that Neustar’s contract to run .co expires in February, and that MinTIC is looking into the possibility of a successor registry.

Currently, .co is delegated to .CO Internet, a Colombian entity that relaunched the TLD in 2010 and was acquired by Neustar for $109 million in 2014.

But under a law passed earlier this year, it appears as if MinTIC is taking over policy management for .co and may therefore seek IANA redelegation.

There’s no indication I could see that there’s a plan to reverse the policy of allowing anyone anywhere in the world to register a .co, indeed MinTIC seems quite proud of its international success.

The documents also give us the first glimpse for years into .co’s growth.

It had 2,374,430 names under management in September, after a couple of years of slowing growth. The documents state that .co had an average of 323,590 new regs per year for the first seven years, which has since declined to an average of 32,396.

.co is not the cheapest TLD out there, renewing at around $25 at the low end.

Mystery .vu registry revealed

Kevin Murphy, August 13, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has been selected as the back-end domain registry operator for the nation of Vanuatu.

The company, and the Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator, announced the appointment, which came after a competitive tender process between nine competing back-end providers, last night.

The ccTLD is .vu.

It’s unrestricted, with no local presence requirements, and currently costs $50 per year if you buy directly from the registry, Telecom Vanuatu Ltd (TVL).

Unusually, if you show up at TVL’s office in Vanuatu capital Port Vila, you can buy a domain for cash. I’ve never heard of that kind of “retail” domain name option before.

A handful of international registrars also sell the domains marked up, generally to over the $80 mark.

TVL was originally the sponsor of the ccTLD, but ICANN redelegated it to TRBR in March after Vanuatu’s government passed a law in 2016 calling for redelegation.

Under the deal, Neustar will take over the registry function from TVL after its 24 years in charge, bringing the .vu option to hundreds of other registrars.

Most registrars are already plugged in to Neustar, due to its operation of .us, .biz and .co. It also recently took over India’s .in.

There’s no public data on the number of domains under management, but Vanuatu is likely to have a much smaller footprint that Neustar’s main ccTLD clients.

It’s quite a young country, gaining independence from France and the UK in 1980, a Pacific archipelago of roughly 272,000 people.

Neustar expects the transition to its back-end to be completed September 30.

ICANN gives .bj to Jeny

The ccTLD for Benin has been redelegated to the country’s government.

ICANN’s board of directors yesterday voted to hand over .bj to Autorité de Régulation des Communications Electroniques et de la Poste du Bénin, ARCEP, the nation’s telecoms regulator.

It had been in the hands of Benin Telecoms, the incumbent national telco, for the last 15 years, but authority over domain names was granted to ARCEP in legislation in 2017 and 2018.

A local ISP, Jeny, has been awarded the contract to run the registry.

According to IANA, Jeny was already running the registry before the redelegation request was even processed, so there’s no risk of the change of control affecting operations.

As usual with ccTLD redelegations, you’ll learn almost nothing from the ICANN board resolution. You’ll get a better precis of the situation from the IANA redelegation report.

Benin is a Francophone nation in West Africa with about 11 million inhabitants.

Turkish government takes over ccTLD

Turkey’s ccTLD has been transferred into government hands.

ICANN’s board of directors at the weekend formally approved a redelegation request from the country to its IANA division.

The new official ccTLD manager is Bilgi Teknolojileri ve İletişim Kurumu (BTK), which translates as Information and Communication Technologies Authority.

That’s Turkey’s telecommunications regulator, part of the government.

The original manager, since the delegation in 1990, was Middle East Technical University, an Ankara-based university that caters to over 30,000 students.

As is usual with ccTLD redelegations, all the discussions happened behind closed doors. Typically, the losing manager has to agreed to the transfer.

IANA will release a report at some point explaining the process leading up to the handover.

.vu to relaunch under mystery new registry

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2019, Domain Registries

Vanuatu is to attempt to broaden the appeal of its .vu domain globally by switching to a new shared registry system.

The changes were initiated last week in Kobe, when the ICANN board of directors gave the final stamp of approval on the redelegation of the ccTLD.

.vu is now delegated to country’s Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR), having been managed since 1995 by Telecom Vanuatu Limited (TVL). The government passed a law in 2016 calling for the redelegation.

Under its new management, the market for .vu domains will be opened up at the registrar level. To date, TVL has operated as a sole source for .vu domains. From now on, it will just be one registrar among (presumably) many.

A registry back-end has already been selected, after tenders were received from nine companies, but it’s still in contract talks and TRBR is not ready to name the successful party just yet.

The Vanuatu government wants to encourage local ISPs and web developers to consider signing up as registrars or resellers, but the SRS will also be open to established international players.

Brand protection registrars and TLD completionists will no doubt begin to carry .vu directly as soon as they’re able to plug in to the new system.

But off the top of my head, I’m struggling to think of a strong global sales pitch for the string, other than a phonetic similarity to “view”.

It doesn’t stand for much as an acronym, doesn’t seem to work well in English as a domain hack, and doesn’t seem to mean much in other widely spoken languages (other than French, where it means “seen”, as in “déjà-vu”).

We can only hope the new management doesn’t attempt to market it with some kind of pathetic backronym.

Domains in .vu currently cost $50 (USD) per year when bought from TVL. I have no current data on how many .vu domains are registered.

InternetNZ’s Keith Davidson assisted in the redelegation and is handling comms during the handover.

Vanuatu is a Pacific archipelago nation, previously known as the New Hebrides, that gained independence from the UK and France in 1980. It had roughly 272,000 inhabitants at the last count.

Exclusive: Tiny island sues to take control of lucrative .nu

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2018, Domain Registries

The tiny Pacific island of Niue has sued the Swedish ccTLD registry to gain control of its own ccTLD, .nu, DI has learned.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Stockholm, claims that the Internet Foundation In Sweden (IIS) acted illegally when it essentially took control of .nu in 2013, paying its American owner millions of dollars a year for the privilege.

Niue wants the whole ccTLD registry transferred to its control at IIS’s expense, along with all the profits IIS has made from .nu since 2013 — many millions of dollars.

It also plans to file a lawsuit in Niue, and to formally request a redelegation from IANA.

While .nu is the code assigned to Niue, it has always been marketed in northern Europe, particularly Sweden, in countries where the string means “now”.

It currently has just shy of 400,000 domains under management, according to IIS’s web site, having seen a 50,000-name slump just a couple weeks ago.

It was expected to be worth a additional roughly $5 million a year for the registry’s top line, according to IIS documents dated 2012, a time when it only had about 240,000 domains.

For comparison, Niue’s entire GDP has been estimated at a mere $10 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. The island has about 1,800 inhabitants and relies heavily on tourism and handouts from New Zealand.

According to documents detailing its 2013 takeover, IIS agreed to pay a minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the right to run the ccTLD, with a potential few million more in performance-related bonuses.

The Niue end of the lawsuit is being handled by Par Brumark, a Swedish national living in Denmark, who has been appointed by the Niuean government to act on its behalf on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, where he is currently a vice-chair.

Brumark told DI that IIS acted illegally when it took over .nu from previous registry, Massachusetts-based WorldNames, which had been running the ccTLD without the consent of Niue’s government since 1997.

The deal was characterized by WorldNames in 2013 as a back-end deal, with IIS taking over administrative and technical operations.

But IIS documents from 2012 reveal that it is actually more like a licensing deal, with IIS paying WorldNames the aforementioned minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the rights to manage, and profit from, the TLD.

The crux of the lawsuit appears to be the question of whether .nu can be considered a “Swedish national domain”.

IIS is a “foundation”, which under Swedish law has to stick to the purpose outlined in its founding charter.

That charter says, per IIS’s own translation, that the IIS “must particularly promote the development of the handling of domain names under the top-level domain .se and other national domains pertaining to Sweden.”

Brumark believes that .nu is not a national domain pertaining to Sweden, because it’s Niue’s national ccTLD.

One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the Swedish telecoms regulator, PTS, refuses to regulate .nu because it’s not Swedish. PTS is expected to be called as a witness.

But documents show that the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which regulates Foundations, gave permission in 2012 for IIS to run “additional top-level domains”.

Via Google Translate, the Board said: “The County Administrative Board finds that the Foundation’s proposed management measures to administer, managing and running additional top-level domains is acceptable.”

Brumark thinks this opinion was only supposed to apply to geographic gTLDs such as .stockholm, and not to ccTLD strings assigned by ISO to other nations.

The Stockholm Board did not mention .nu or make a distinction between ccTLD and gTLDs in its letter to IIS, but the letter was in response to a statement from an IIS lawyer that .nu, with 70% of its registrations in Sweden, could be considered a Swedish national domain under the IIS charter.

Brumark points to public statements made by IIS CEO Danny Aerts to the effect that IIS is limited to Swedish national domains. Here, for example, he says that IIS could not run .wales.

IIS did not respond to my requests for comment by close of business in Sweden today.

Niue claims that if .nu isn’t Swedish, IIS has no rights under its founding charter to run it, and that it should be transferred to a Niuean entity, the Niue Information Technology Committee.

That’s a governmental entity created by an act of the local parliament 18 years ago, when Niue first started its campaign to get control of .nu.

The history of .nu is a controversial one, previously characterized as “colonialism” by some.

The ccTLD was claimed by Boston-based WorldNames founder Bill Semich and an American resident of the island, in 1997. That’s pre-ICANN, when the IANA database was still being managed by Jon Postel.

At the time, governments had basically no say in how their ccTLDs were delegated. It’s not even clear if Niue was aware its TLD had gone live at the time.

The official sponsor of .nu, according to the IANA record, is the IUSN Foundation, which is controlled by WorldNames.

Under ICANN/IANA policy, the consent of the incumbent sponsor is required in order for a redelegation to occur, and WorldNames has been understandably reluctant to give up its cash cow, despite Niue trying to take control for the better part of two decades.

The 2000 act of parliament declared that NITC was the only true sponsor for .nu, but even Niuean law has so far not proved persuasive.

So the lawsuit against IIS is huge twist in the tale.

If Niue were to win, IIS would presumably be obliged to hand over all of its registry and customer data to Niue’s choice of back-end provider.

Both Afilias and Danish registrar One.com have previously expressed an interest in running .nu, providing a share of the revenue to Niue, according to court documents.

Brumark said that a settlement might also be possible, but that it would be very costly to IIS.

Readers might also be interested in my 2011 article about Niue, which was once widely referred to as the “WiFi Nation”.

Mali’s domain could change hands next week

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors will next week vote on whether to redelegate .ml, the country-code top-level domain for the war-torn nation of Mali, to a new registry operator.

The ccTLD is currently delegated to Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (Sotelma), a publicly traded telecommunications provider, but it’s not currently possible to register a .ml domain.

The reasons for a redelegation are never publicized by ICANN until after they are approved, when IANA publishes a redelegation report, so it’s not yet clear what’s going on this case.

Mali has been hitting headlines in Europe recently due to the French involvement in government efforts to retake the northern parts of the country from Islamist rebels.

Following the outbreak of hostilities a year ago, in March 2012 the Malian government was overthrown in a coup d’état that was widely condemned by the international community.

Following sanctions the military quickly ceded power to an interim president, who continues in the role today ahead of elections to find a more permanent successor, scheduled for July.

France, supported by allies including the UK, moved in to help Mali retake the north last month.

Sotelma is based in the capital, Bamako, which is not held by rebels.

The redelegation of .ml is on the main agenda — rather than the consent agenda, which is usually the case for redelegations — for ICANN’s board meeting next Thursday.

Could .om become the next typo TLD?

Will Oman’s .om domain follow in the footsteps of .co? Or .cm? Or neither?

The country-code top-level domain is set to be transferred to a new manager following an ICANN vote this coming Thursday.

The redelegation is one item on a unusually light agenda for the board’s July 28 telephone meeting. It’s on the consent agenda, so it will likely be rubber-stamped without discussion.

The domain is currently assigned to Oman Telecommunications Company, but the new owner is expected to be the national Telecommunications Regulatory Authority or an affiliated entity.

The Omani TRA was given authority over the nation’s domain names by Royal Decree in 2002.

It has already successfully had the Arabic-script ccTLD .عمان approved by ICANN for use as an internationalized domain name, but the IDN has not yet been delegated.

AusRegistry International this March won a $1.3 million contract with the TRA to provide software and services for the .om and .عمان registries.

At the time, the TRA said it planned to market both Latin and Arabic extensions to increase the number of domain registrations.

The .om ccTLD is of course a .com typo, like .co and .cm, but squatting is not currently possible due to its strict registration policies.

Only Omani entities may register .om domains today, and only third-level domains (such as example.com.om and example.net.om) may be registered. Domains may not be resold.

I have no particular reason to believe this situation will change under new stewardship, but it will certainly be worth keeping an eye on the TLD for possible policy changes.

When Cameroon’s .cm opened up, it implemented a widely vilified blanket wildcard in an attempt to profit from .com typos.

Colombia’s .co of course took the responsible route, disowning wildcards and embracing strong anti-squatting measures, even if its mere existence was still a headache for some trademark owners.

Legal fight breaks out over .pr domains

The University of Puerto Rico has accused the manager of the .pr top-level domain of hoodwinking ICANN in order to “illegally” take over the registry.

It recently filed a lawsuit seeking to regain control of .pr, saying that the current registry operator has made an estimated $2 million from domain registrations since it somehow took over the ccTLD.

The lawsuit and other documents tell a remarkable story, one in which a University department quietly spun itself out as a private for-profit company and took .pr with it.

If the claims are true, ICANN may have made a huge screw-up by inadvertantly allowing the ccTLD to be transferred from the University into private hands.

According to an archived copy of the IANA delegation record for .pr, the ccTLD was from 1988 until about 2007 delegated to:

University of Puerto Rico
Gauss Laboratory
Facundo Bueso Building
Office 265
Rio Piedras 00931
Puerto Rico

That’s the Sponsoring Organization. The administrative and technical contacts also stated that UPR was in charge of the domain. The contact email address was @uprr.pr, the University’s domain.

Today, the IANA record is quite different:

Gauss Research Laboratory Inc.
Calle Vesta 801
San Juan 00923
Puerto Rico

The University is no longer listed. The contact email addresses are now @nic.pr. These new details have been in effect apparently since some time in 2007.

To my eye, this looks like the stewardship of .pr was transferred from one organization, the University of Puerto Rico, to another, Gauss Research Laboratory Inc.

But IANA never produced a redelegation report – as it must when a registry changes hands – and the ICANN board never voted to redelegate.

According to a July 2007 letter (pdf) circulating this week from David Conrad, who was then IANA general manager at ICANN, the changes merely reflected a “structural reorganization” of the registry:

Since the underlying organization performing registry services for .PR did not change (it was Gauss Laboratory before and after the change), this is not considered a full redelegation, and therefore does not result in a public report with board approval.

But the University claims that long-time manager Oscar Moreno set up Gauss as a non-profit organization to handle .pr when he retired from UPR, then in 2007 changed it to the for-profit corporation that is now the designated registry manager.

A 2009 letter from UPR to ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey (pdf), which emerged on mailing lists last week, said Moreno was trying to sell his company, and the ccTLD, to a third party.

IANA, according to the letter, was fooled into thinking the University backed the transfer of control due to a letter from a faculty member who did not have the authority to authorize the changes.

The University sued Moreno in late May (pdf), seeking an injunction ordering him to transfer .pr back to UPR and to return the $2 million it believes .pr domain sales have raised since 2007.

IANA redelegations are rarely straightforward.

A recent report from the Country Code Names Supporting Organization found that ccTLD redelegations have been basically a bloody mess – unpredictable, opaque and poorly documented.

ICANN does not discuss IANA requests, but I’m currently aware of a handful of ongoing redelegation battles, such as those over Niue’s .nu and Rwanda’s .rw.

It is suspected that Irish operator IEDR is currently trying to have .ie taken away from its nominal sponsor, University College Ireland, which has put the fear into at least one registrar.