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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

UPDATE August 12 2020: Roache recently wrote to DI and stated the following:

Alpnames itself worked closely with ICANN for months to arrange for its exit from the Registrar business and with a number of Registrars to arrange for the transfer of the customers. Your article does not reflect the detail of what transpired and is inaccurate.

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.

Chinese registrars on the decline

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2018, Domain Registrars

Having been on a growth trajectory for some years, the number of ICANN-accredited registrars based in China appears to be on the decline.

According to my records, so far this year 26 registrar contracts have been terminated, voluntarily or otherwise, 11 of which were Chinese. I’m excluding the mass drop of Pheenix accreditations from these numbers.

The country with the next-highest number of terminations was the USA, with three.

ICANN has terminated nine registrars for breaches of the RAA this year, six of which were Chinese.

All the Chinese notices included non-payment of ICANN fees as a reason for termination, though it appears that most of them had a negligible number of gTLD domains under management.

ICANN Compliance tells me there’s no particular focus of China at the moment, this is all a result of regular day-to-day enforcement.

ICANN has sent breach notices to 28 companies this year, seven of which were to Chinese registrars.

Meanwhile, 22.cn has moved 13 of its accredited shell registrars to Hong Kong. Another registrar moved its base from China to Australia.

Seven Chinese registrars have been newly accredited this year,

Net, this has all reduced the number of accredited registrars based in China to 91.

The country still has the second-most registrars ahead of the US, with its almost 2,000 registrars, and a clear 31 registrars ahead of third-place India.

.tel’s second-biggest registrar gets canned

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2018, Domain Registrars

A Chinese registrar that focused exclusively on selling .tel domain names has been shut down by ICANN.

Tong Ji Ming Lian (Beijing) Technology Corporation Ltd, which did business as Trename, had its registrar contract terminated last week.

ICANN claims the company had failed to pay its accreditation fees and failed to escrow its registration data.

The organization had been sending breach notices since June, but got no responses. Trename’s web site domain currently resolves to a web server error, for me at least.

Trename is a rare example of a single-TLD registrar, accredited only to sell .tel domains. It didn’t even sell .com.

It is Telnames’ second-largest registrar after Name.com, accounting for about 6,000 names at the last count. At its peak, it had about 55,000.

Its share seems to be primarily as a result of a deal the registry made with a Chinese e-commerce company way back in 2011.

I’m a bit fuzzy on the details of that deal, but it saw Trename add 50,000 .tel names pretty much all at once.

Back then, .tel still had its original business model of hosting all the domains it sold and publishing web sites containing the registrant’s contact information.

Since June 2017, .tel has been available as a general, anything-goes gTLD, after ICANN agreed to liberalize its contract.

That liberalization doesn’t seem to have done much to stave off .tel’s general decline in numbers, however. It currently stands at about 75,000 names, from an early 2011 peak of over 305,000.

ICANN told Trename that its contract will end September 19, and that it’s looking for another registrar to take over its domains.

With escrow apparently an issue, it may not be a smooth transition.

38th dot-brand bows out after acquisition

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2018, Domain Registries

Telecity Group, which used to be a major London-based internet collocation facilities operator, has told ICANN it no longer wishes to run its dot-brand gTLD.

.telecity will become the 38th dot-brand gTLD to terminate its registry agreement.

The company, which had close to £350 million ($445 million) revenue in 2014, was acquired by US-based rival Equinix for £2.35 billion ($3 billion) in early 2016.

Equinix has since started to transition away from the Telecity brand. Its old .com home page now instructs visitors to visit the Equinix site instead.

Like most of the other dead dot-brands, .telecity was never used.

Allstate dumps a dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2018, Domain Registries

American insurance giant Allstate has dumped one of its two dot-brand gTLDs.

The company, which had $38.5 billion revenue in 2017, has told ICANN it no longer wishes to run .goodhands, which is a partial match to its long-time “Are you in good hands?” advertising slogan.

Allstate still owns the contract to run .allstate, where it has a handful of domains that redirect to its primary .com site.

The company had also applied for the gTLDs .carinsurance and .autoinsurance, but withdrew both applications after the “closed generics” controversy in 2013.

.goodhands is the ninth dot-brand to self-terminate this year and the 37th since .doosan became the first back in September 2015.

Hundreds of other dot-brand gTLDs are still live, many of them in active use.

Four more dot-brands call it quits

Four more dot-brand gTLDs are to disappear after their operators decided they don’t want them any more.

These are the latest victims of the voluntary cull:

  • High-priced bling-maker Richemont, an enthusiastic new gTLD early adopter, is dumping .panerai (a watch brand) and .jlc (for Jaeger-LeCoultre, another watch brand), the sixth and seventh of its fourteen originally applied-for gTLDs to be abandoned.
  • Norwegian energy company Equinor, which changed its name from Statoil a few months ago, is getting rid of .statoil for obvious reasons. Will it bother to apply for .equinor next time around? We’ll have to wait (and wait) and see.
  • Online printing outfit Vistaprint no longer wants .vista, one of its two delegated TLDs. It still has .vistaprint, and is in contracting with ICANN for its bitterly-won .webs, which matches its Webs.com brand.

The three companies informed ICANN of their intention to scrap their registry agreements between May 14 and June 14, but ICANN only published their requests on its web site in the last few hours.

Needless to say, none of the four TLDs had any live sites beyond their contractually mandated minimum.

The number of delegated new gTLD registries to voluntarily terminate their contracts now stands at 36, all dot-brands.

Under ICANN procedures, the termination requests and ICANN’s decision not to re-delegate the strings to other registries are now open for public comment.

Drop-catcher drops almost all remaining registrars

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registrars

Drop-catch specialist Pheenix has terminated almost all of its remaining registrar accreditations, leaving it with just its core registrar.

By my count, 50 shell registrars have terminated their ICANN contracts over the last few days, all of them part of the Pheenix dropnet.

Only Pheenix.com remains accredited.

That’s one registrar, down from a peak of about 500 at the end of 2016.

Almost 450 were terminated in November.

With registrars equating to connection time with the .com registry, it looks like Pheenix’s ability to catch dropping names through its own accreditations has been severely diminished.

By my count, ICANN currently has 2,495 accredited registrars, having terminated 524 and accredited about 40 since last July, when it said it expected to lose a net 750 over the coming 12 months.

Fifty registrars is worth a minimum of $200,000 in fixed annual fees to ICANN.