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Italian bank is the latest dot-brand to bow out

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Registries

Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Italy’s sixth-largest bank, has become the latest new gTLD owner to tell ICANN it no longer wishes to run its dot-brand.

It’s the 47th new gTLD to request termination of its registry contract. The affected TLD is .bnl.

ICANN has already decided not to transition the contract to a new owner, as usual.

Also as usual, the gTLD has never been used above and beyond the obligatory nic. site.

What makes this termination somewhat noteworthy is that BNL is a subsidiary of French bank BNP Paribas, which is one of the most enthusiastic dot-brand owners out there.

BNP Paribas dumped its .fr and .net domains in favor of its domains under .bnpparibas back in 2015 and currently has roughly 250 domains in its zone file and dozens of live sites.

The domain mabanque.bnpparibas, used for its French retail banking services, was for some time a top 10 most-visited new gTLD domain names, per Alexa rankings, but that has slipped as new gTLDs’ popularity have increased overall.

Another dot-brand bites the dust

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registries

Honeywell International, a $40-billion-a-year US conglomerate, has become the last major company to dump its dot-brand gTLD.

The company informed ICANN in February that it no longer wishes to run .honeywell, and ICANN yesterday published its preliminary decision not to transition the TLD to a new owner.

Honeywell never used .honeywell, which has been in the DNS root since June 2016, beyond the contractually mandated placeholder at nic.honeywell.

It becomes the 46th new gTLD registry to request a termination since 2015. Almost all have been dot-brands.

The company’s request is open for public comment until April 14. To date, there have been no public comments on any voluntary registry termination.

Honeywell is involved in the aerospace, building and consumer goods sectors. It has 130,000 employees and reported revenue of $40.5 billion for 2018.

It’s the first new gTLD termination request of 2019.

AlpNames could get PAID for abandoning its customers

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2019, Domain Registrars

So it turns out selling domain names for peanuts to spammers isn’t a viable business model. Who’d have thunk?

As you’ll have no doubt already read elsewhere, ICANN has shut down AlpNames, the deep-discounting registrar with an unenviable reputation for attracting abusive registrants.

But there’s a chance that the company might actually get paid for its customer base, under ICANN rules.

ICANN today terminated AlpNames’ contract, effective immediately, having discovered the “discontinuance of its operations”.

It’s a rare case of ICANN going straight to richly deserved termination, skipping over the breach notice phase.

The former registrar’s web site has been down for the best part of a week, resolving to a Cloudflare error message saying the AlpNames web server is missing its SSL certificate.

But it appears its customers may have been experiencing problems accessing their accounts even earlier.

Judging by ICANN’s termination notice, the organization has had just about as much luck contacting AlpNames management as DI, which is to say: none.

CEO Iain Roache appears to have simply stopped paying attention to the company, for reasons unknown, allowing it to simply fade away.

At least three members of senior staff have left the company over the last several months, with former COO Damon Barnard telling DI he was asked to leave as a cost-cutting measure as Roache attempted to relocate the company from Gibraltar to the UK.

I gather that Roache is also currently tied up in litigation related to the failure of his old registry management business, Famous Four Media, which was removed by gTLD portfolio owner Domain Venture Partners last year.

So what happens now to AlpNames customers?

Fortunately, most of them should suffer only minor inconvenience.

ICANN has initiated its De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure, which will see all of AlpNames’ domains forcibly transferred to another registrar.

This often uses the data that registrars are obliged to periodically escrow, but in this case AlpNames uses LogicBoxes as a registrar back-end, so presumably LogicBoxes still has fresh, live data.

AlpNames had 532,941 domain names across all gTLDs on its IANA tag at the last official count, at the end of November. It’s believed to be closer to 700,000 today.

In November, its top two gTLDs were .top and .gdn, which had 280,000 names between them. It had over 19,000 .com names under management

Almost 700,000 names is a big deal, making AlpNames a top 40 registrar, and would make a nice growth spurt for any number of struggling registrars.

The portfolio could be a bit of a poisoned chalice, however, containing as it likely does a great many low-quality and some possibly abusive registrations.

At least one registrar, Epik, has publicly stated its desire to take over these domains, but due to the volume of AlpNames DUM it could be a competitive bidding process between multiple registrars.

Under the ICANN rules (pdf), a “full application process” is generally favored for defunct registrars with over 1,000 domains, when the de-accredited registrar has not named a successor.

The scoring system used to pick a winner has many criteria, but it generally favors larger registrars. They have to show they have the scale to handle the extra technical and customer support load required by the transition, for example.

It also favors registrars with breadth of gTLD coverage. They have to be accredited in all the gTLDs the dead registrar was. AlpNames supported 352 gTLDs and had active domains in 270 of them, according to November’s registry reports.

Language support may be an issue too, in case for example a substantial chunk of AlpNames business came from, say, China.

All applying registrars that score above a certain threshold are considered tied, and the tie-breaker is how much they’re willing to pay for the portfolio.

Unlike gTLD auctions, ICANN does not receive the proceeds of this auction, however. According to the policy (with my emphasis):

This procedure is not intended to create a new form of revenue for ICANN. To the extent payment is received as part of a bulk transfer, ICANN will apply funds against any debt owed by the registrar to ICANN and forward the remaining funds, if any, to the de-accredited registrar.

That’s right, there’s a chance AlpNames might actually get a small windfall, despite essentially abandoning its customers.

Think about it like the government using eminent domain to buy a house it wishes to demolish to make way for a new road. Except the house’s cellar is full of kidnapped children. And it’s on fire.

Of course, this might not happen. ICANN might decide that there’s not enough time to run a full application process without risk to AlpNames’ customers and instead simply award the dead registrar’s portfolio to one of the registrars in its pre-approved pool of gaining registrars.

That choice would be partly based on ICANN judgement and partly on which registrar is next in the round-robin queue of pre-qualified registrars.

Here’s a handy diagram that shows the procedure.

Deaccred

Pay up or sell up, ICANN tells failing new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN has responded to a request for it to reduce the $25,000 annual fee it charges gTLD registries.

The answer is no.

That wholly unsurprising reply came in a letter from registry services director Russ Weinstein to John McCabe, CEO of failing new gTLD operator Who’s Who Registry.

McCabe, in November, had asked ICANN to reduce its fees for TLDs, such as its own .whoswho, that have zero levels of abuse. ICANN fees are the “single biggest item” in the company’s budget, he said.

His request coincided with ICANN commencing compliance proceedings against the company for failure to pay these fees

Weinstein wrote, in a letter (pdf) published today:

We sympathize with the financial challenges that some new gTLD registry operators may be facing in the early periods of these new businesses. New gTLD operators face a challenging task of building consumer awareness and this can and may take significant time and effort.

But he goes on to point out that the $25,000-a-year fee was known to all applicants before they applied, and had been subject to numerous rounds of public comment before the Applicant Guidebook was finalized.

Weinstein writes:

The AGB made clear that evaluation phase was to determine whether an applicant had the requisite technical, operation and financial capabilities to operate a registry, and was not a assessment nor an endorsement of a particular business plan.

It’s pretty clear that the .whoswho business plan has failed. It’s sold no more than a handful of non-defensive domains over the four years it has been available.

Weinstein concludes his letter by pointing out that all new gTLD registries are free to terminate their contracts for any reason, and that it’s perfectly permissible under ICANN rules to sell your contract to another registry.

ICANN told Who’s Who earlier this month that it has until February 10 to pay its overdue fees or risk having its contract terminated.

First non-brand gTLD to go dark

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2018, Domain Registries

The number of new gTLDs to voluntarily terminate their ICANN contracts has hit 45, with the first non-brand calling it quits.

It’s a geo-gTLD, .doha, which was meant to represent the Qatari capital of Doha.

There were no registered domains. Despite being delegated in March 2015, it never launched.

The registry was the country’s Communications Regulatory Authority, which also runs local ccTLD .qa.

No reason was given for the request — registries are allowed to terminate their contracts for any reason, with notice.

The registry’s web site hasn’t been updated in some time, so perhaps resources are an issue.

Given Doha is a protected geographic term, it’s unlikely to return in future unless the government changes its mind in future application rounds.

Dot-brand gTLDs to go the same way since I last reported the number include .blanco, .spiegel, .bond, .epost, .active and .zippo.