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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.