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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.

Another five Amazon TLDs move to Nominet

Another five gTLDs owned by Amazon have made the back-end switch from Neustar to Nominet.

According to changes to IANA records this week, Nominet is now the registry services provider for .bot, .zappos, .imdb, .prime, and .aws.

This brings the number of Amazon TLDs to migrate from Neustar to Nominet recently to 40.

Amazon has 52 gTLDs in its portfolio. It moved 35 of them to Nominet a couple weeks ago.

Neustar told us at the time:

in an effort to diversify their back-end support, Amazon has chosen to move some, but not all, of their TLDs to another provider. Neustar will still manage multiple Amazon TLDs after the transition and we look forward to our continued partnership.

Moving .bot is notable as it is one of only six Amazon TLDs currently accepting registrations. It’s still many months away from general availability, but it has about 1,500 names in its zone. The other four movers are currently pre-launch.

It may or may not be significant that no non-Latin-script TLDs belonging to Amazon have made the transition.

According to IANA records, Neustar is still managing 12 Amazon strings, only three of which — .song, .coupon and .zero — are not internationalized domain names.

If those three TLDs were to also make the jump to Nominet over the coming weeks, I would not be in the least bit surprised.

Nominet does not currently handle IDN TLDs for any client.

Despite Afilias lawsuit, Neustar names date for Indian takeaway

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has named the date for the transition of the .in registry away from incumbent Afilias..

It’s due to happen February 28, according to a new web site the company has set up to publicize the handover.

The registry will be down for up to 48 hours, starting from 1830 UTC, February 17, as a result.

There will be no new adds, and registrants won’t be able to update their domains, during the downtime. DNS will not be affected, so domains should still resolve.

Neustar won the back-end contract from .in manager NIXI last year, out from under Afilias, after reportedly undercutting Afilias’ $1.10 per-domain-per-year bid with a $0.70 bid of its own.

Given the 2.2 million domains in .in, that makes the contract worth about $7.7 million over its five-year duration.

The transition appears to be going ahead despite a lawsuit filed by Afilias against the Indian government last August, which sought to block the deal.

According to Neustar, the contract was awarded, regardless, last September.

But the lawsuit seems to be still active, judging by the latest filings published on the Delhi High Court web site, which show no judgement has yet been filed.

Fight breaks out as Afilias eats Neustar’s Aussie baby

The transition of .au to Afilias’ registry platform over the weekend seems to have gone quite smoothly, but that hasn’t stopped Neustar and a former key executive from lashing back at what it says are the gaining company’s “misinformed” statements.

The war of words, which has got quite nasty, came as Afilias transferred all 3.1 million .au domains to its control, after 16 years with the former incumbent.

Neustar, which hadn’t said much about losing one of its most-lucrative TLD contracts, on Friday published a lengthy blog post in which it said it wanted to “set the record straight” about Afilias’ statements leading up to the switch.

Afilias, in a series of blog posts and press releases since it won the .au contract, has been bigging up its technical capabilities.

While it’s not directly criticized Neustar and predecessor AusRegistry (which Neustar acquired for $87 million), the implication of many of these statements is that Neustar was, by comparison, a bit shit.

In Neustar’s latest post, Aussie VP George Pongas takes issue with several of these claims.

Any implications that the company did not offer 24/7 registrar support were incorrect, he wrote. Likewise, the idea that it did not have a DNS node in Western Australia was not true, he wrote.

He also took issue with claims that Afilias would offer improved security and a broader feature set for registrars, writing:

We’ve raised a number of concerns directly with auDA about what we considered to be inaccurate remarks comparing Neustar’s systems with the new Registry and implying that the new Registry will include “all previous functionality plus enhanced security and authentication measures”, as stated in recent auDA Member communications. We questioned auDA about this and were informed that the statement is comparing the various testing phases of Afilias’ Registry – so the latest version has “all previous functionality” of the earlier versions. It doesn’t mean the Registry will have “all previous functionality” of Neustar’s platform – which we believe the statement implies. It is a fact that a number of the proprietary features and services that Neustar currently provides to Registrars will no longer be available under the new Registry system, and thus Registrars will likely notice a difference.

“We stand by our statements,” an Afilias spokesperson told DI today.

While Neustar’s corporate stance was fairly reserved, former AusRegistry boss Adrian Kinderis, never a shrinking violet, has been reacting in an almost presidential fashion, using Twitter to describe auDA CEO Cameron Boardman as “incompetent”, criticizing a reporter, and using the hashtag #crookedcameron.

Kinderis, who headed up AusRegistry for the whole of its 16-year run with .au, left Neustar in April, three years after the acquisition. He’s now running something called MadBarry Enterprises and is still associated with the new gTLD .film.

He reckons Neustar lost the .au contract purely for financial reasons.

While Neustar is believed to have lowered its registry fee expectations when pitching to continue as the back end, auDA will save itself about AUD 9 million a year ($7 million) under Afilias, compared to the old regime.

auDA is not expected to hand this saving on to registrars and registrants, though I hear registrars have been offered marketing rebates recently.

auDA has previously told us that Afilias scored highest on the technical evaluation of the nine bidders, and that it was not the bidder with the lowest fee.

Kinderis is also of the opinion that Afilias is among those helping auDA stack its membership with compliant stooges.

Last month, auDA announced a dramatic four-fold increase in its membership — getting 955 new membership applications in just a month.

auDA thanked Afilias for this growth in membership, alongside three of the largest .au registrars: Ventra IP, Arq Group (formerly Melbourne IT), and CrazyDomains owner Dreamscape Networks.

An Afilias spokesperson said that the company had offered its staff the option to become auDA members and about half — I estimate at roughly 150 people based on Afilias’ previously published headcounts — had taken it up on the offer.

It sounds rather like Afilias footed the AUD 22 per-person “Demand-class” membership application fees.

The rapid increase in membership at auDA has raised eyebrows in the .au community, with some accusing the registry of “branch stacking”.

That’s an Australian term used to describe the practice of signing up large numbers of members of a local branch of a political party in order to swing important votes.

The 955-plus new members will not be approved in time to influence the outcome of the vote to oust the auDA chair and others later this month.

But they will have voting rights by the time auDA’s annual general meeting comes around later this year. The AGM is when auDA will attempt to reform itself in light of a harsh government review of its practices.

As for the migration to Afilias itself, it seems to have gone relatively smoothly. I’m not aware of any reports of any serious technical issues, despite the fact that it was the largest TLD migration ever.

Some members have pointed out that most of .au’s ops are now off-shore, and old auDA Whois service is now hosted on a .ltd domain (hey, somebody’s got to use it) which is itself protected by Whois privacy.

I also noticed that the auDA web site, which used to have a hook into the registry that published an updated domain count every day, is no longer working.

Is the Trump administration really trying to reverse the IANA transition?

Kevin Murphy, January 29, 2018, Domain Policy

Questions have been raised about the US government’s commitment to an independent ICANN, following the release of letters sent by two top Trump appointees.

In the letters, new NTIA head David Redl and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross expressed an interest in looking at ways to “unwind” the IANA transition, which in 2016 severed the formal ties between ICANN and the US in DNS root zone management.

Responding to questions from senators during his lengthy confirmation process, now National Telecommunications and Information Administration assistant secretary Redl wrote:

I am not aware of any specific proposals to reverse the IANA transition, but I am interested in exploring ways to achieve this goal. To that end, if I am confirmed I will recommend to Secretary Ross that we begin the process by convening a panel of experts to investigate options for unwinding the transition.

The letters were first obtained by Politico under the Freedom of Information Act. We’re publishing them here (pdf).

They were sent last August, when Redl’s confirmation to the NTIA role was being held up by Senator Ted Cruz, who vehemently opposed the transition because he said he thought it would give more power over online speech to the likes of Russia and China.

He was confirmed in November.

The question is whether Redl was serious about unwinding the transition, or whether he was just bullshitting Cruz in order to remove a roadblock to his confirmation.

Technically, he only promised to “recommend” convening a panel of experts to his boss, Ross.

NTIA declined to comment last week when DI asked whether the department still supports the IANA transition, whether any efforts are underway to unwind it, and whether the panel of experts has already been convened.

Redl’s statements on ICANN since his confirmation have been more or less consistent with his Obama-era predecessor, Larry Strickling, in terms of expressing support for multi-stakeholder models, but with perhaps some causes for concern.

During his first public speech, delivered at the CES show in Las Vegas earlier this month, Redl expressed support for multi-stakeholder internet governance amid pushes for more multi-lateral control within venues such as the International Telecommunications Union.

However, he added:

I’ll also focus on being a strong advocate for U.S. interests within ICANN. We need to ensure transparency and accountability in ICANN’s work. And in light of the implementation of the European General Data Privacy Regulation, or GDPR, we need to preserve lawful access to WHOIS data, which is a vital tool for the public.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be seeking out the views of stakeholders to understand how else NTIA can best serve American interests in these global Internet fora.

Could this be an allusion to the “panel of experts”? It’s unclear at this stage.

One of Redl’s first moves as NTIA chief was to slam ICANN for its lack of accountability concerning the shutdown of a review working group, but that was hardly a controversial point of view.

And in a letter to Senator Brian Schatz, the Democrat ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, sent earlier this month, Redl expressed support for the multi-stakeholder model and wrote:

NTIA will be a strong advocate for US interests with the Governmental Advisory Committee of the Internet Cooperation [sic] for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in the existing post-transition IANA phase. NTIA will also monitor the [IANA operator] Public Technical Identifiers (PTI) and take action as necessary to ensure the security and stability of the DNS root.

That certainly suggests NTIA is happy to work in the new paradigm, while the promise to “take action as necessary” against PTI may raise eyebrows.

While a lot of this may seem ambiguous, my hunch is that there’s not really much appetite to reverse the IANA transition. Apart from appeasing Cruz’s demons, what could possibly be gained?

Ross, quizzed by Cruz at his own confirmation hearing a year ago, seemed reluctant to commit to such a move.

IANA boss quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2017, Domain Policy

The head of IANA is to leave the organization, ICANN announced this week.

Elise Gerich, currently vice president of IANA Services at ICANN and president of Public Technical Identifiers (PTI), will leave in October, according to a blog post.

She’ll stick around long enough to oversee the DNS root’s first DNSSEC Key-Signing Key rollover, which is due to go ahead October 11.

Gerich has been VP of IANA since May 2010, and took on the job of PTI president last October when the IANA function was restructured to remove the US government from the mix.

ICANN said it will start the hunt for her replacement shortly.

ICANN’s Empowered Community to get its first test-drive after appeals panel vote

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s post-transition bylaws have only been in effect for a few months, but the board of directors wants to change one of them already.

The board last week voted to create a new committee dedicated to handling Requests for Reconsideration — formal appeals against ICANN decisions.

But because this would change a so-called Fundamental Bylaw, ICANN’s new Empowered Community mechanism will have to be triggered.

The Board Governance Committee, noting that the number of RfR complaints it’s having to deal with has sharply increased due to fights over control of new gTLDs, wants that responsibility split out to be handled by a new, dedicated Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee.

It seems on the face of it like a fairly non-controversial change — RfRs will merely be dealt with by a different set of ICANN directors.

However, it will require a change to one of the Fundamental Bylaws — bylaws considered so important they need a much higher threshold to approve.

This means the untested Empowered Community (which I’m not even sure actually exists yet) is going to get its first outing.

The EC is an ad hoc non-profit organization meant to give ICANN the community (that is, you) ultimate authority over ICANN the organization.

It has the power to kick out directors, spill the entire board, reject bylaws changes and approve Fundamental Bylaws changes.

It comprises four or five “Decisional Participants” — GNSO, the ccNSO, the ALAC, the ASO and (usually) the GAC.

In this case at least three of the five Decisional Participants must approve the change, and no more than one may object.

The lengthy process for the EC approving the proposed bylaws change is outlined here.

I wouldn’t expect this proposal to generate a lot of heated discussion on its merits, but it will put the newly untethered ICANN to the test for the first time, which could highlight process weaknesses that could be important when more important policy changes need community scrutiny.

ICANN’s divorce from the US cost $32 million

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2017, Domain Policy

The IANA transition cost ICANN a total of $32 million, according to documentation released today.

The hefty bill was racked up from the announcment of the transition in March 2014 until the end of 2016, according to this presentation (pdf).

A whopping $15 million of the total went on lawyers.

IANA costs

Another $8.3 million went on other third-party services, including lobbying, PR and translation.

More than half of the overall expenses — $17.8 million — was incurred in ICANN’s fiscal 2016, which ended last June.

Trump nominee open to retaking ICANN oversight role

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, Domain Policy

The incoming head of the US Department of Commerce has indicated that it is unlikely he’ll try to reestablish the US government’s unique oversight of ICANN, at least in the short term.

But at his confirmation hearing in Congress yesterday, Trump nominee for secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said he’d be open to ideas about how the US could increase its power over ICANN.

He was responding to a question from Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who made halting the IANA transition one of his key concerns last year.

Cruz, framing the question in such a way as to suggest ICANN is now in the hands of an intergovernmental consortium (which it is not) asked Ross whether he was committed to preventing censorious regimes using ICANN to hinder Americans’ freedom of speech.

Ross replied:

As such a big market and really as the inventors of the Internet, I’m a little surprised that we seem to be essentially voiceless in the governance of that activity. That strikes me as an intellectually incorrect solution. But I’m not aware of what it is that we actually can do right now to deal with that. If it exists, if some realistic alternative comes up, I’d be very interested.

His response also mischaracterizes the power balance post-transition.

The US is not “essentially voiceless”. Rather, it has the same voice as every other government as a member of the Governmental Advisory Committee.

Its role is arguably still a lot more powerful than other nations, given that ICANN is now bylaws-bound to remain headquartered in California and under US jurisdiction.

As head of Commerce, Ross will have authority over the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency most directly responsible for dealing with ICANN and domain name issues in general.

NTIA itself will to the best of my knowledge still be headed by assistant secretary Larry Strickling, who handled the IANA transition from the US government side. (UPDATE: this may not be correct)

Ross, 79, is a billionaire investor who made most of his estimated $2.5 billion fortune restructuring bankrupt companies in the coal and steel industries.

ICANN retires Affirmation of Commitments with US gov

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has terminated its last formal oversight link with the US government.

Late last week, ICANN chair Steve Crocker and Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration mutually agreed to retire the seven-year-old Affirmation of Commitments.

The AoC, negotiated during the tail end of Paul Twomey’s leadership of ICANN and signed by successor Rod Beckstrom, laid out ICANN’s responsibilities to the US government and, to a lesser extent, vice versa.

It included, for example, ICANN’s commitments to openness and transparency, its promise to remain headquartered in California, and its agreement to ongoing reviews of the impact of its actions.

Ongoing projects such as the Competition and Consumer Trust Review originate in the AoC.

The rationale for concluding the deal now is that most of significant provisions of the AoC have been grandfathered into ICANN’s revised bylaws and other foundational documents following the IANA transition, which concluded in October.

Reviews such as the CCT and the lock on its California HQ are now in the bylaws and elsewhere, ICANN said in a blog post.

It’s worth mentioning that the US gets a new administration led by Donald Trump in a little over a week, so it probably made sense to get the AoC out of the way now, lest the new president do something insane with it.

The letters from Crocker and Strickling terminating the deal can be read together here (pdf).