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ICANN 73 will be “virtual first”

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s public meeting next March will prioritize online participation, according to chair Maarten Botterman.

Botterman told members of the APAC Space community group this week that ICANN 73 will have “a meaningful ‘virtual first’ hybrid format to support the community’s ongoing priorities, policy advice, and development work”.

APAC Space, you will recall, had written to ICANN to protest the possibility of this October’s ICANN 72 meeting moving to a hybrid model with an in-person component that most Asia-Pacific community members would not be able to take advantage of due to ongoing pandemic-related travel restrictions.

But the ICANN board, in part due to these concerns, decided to keep 72 online-only rather than showing up in Seattle in person, while stating an intention to go hybrid for 73 if “feasible”.

ICANN 73 is due to take place in Puerto Rico, part of the North America region, next March. As a US territory, the venue will be easier to attend for Americans.

Indeed, APAC Space is skeptical about its members ability to attend 73 in person also.

Botterman addressed this, saying:

We appreciate you have similar concerns about holding a hybrid meeting for ICANN73. At this time, relevant experts have a higher level of confidence that the global pandemic situation, in particular vaccination and infection rates, will be much improved by early 2022. While we will continue to closely monitor the situation, our intentions are to hold ICANN73 as a hybrid meeting with an in-person component if it is feasible to do so.

The five online-only meetings ICANN has held since the pandemic hit are generally regarded as being pretty good as far as Zoom meetings go, but there can be no replacement for the corridor conversations, cocktail events and private dinners that face-to-face meetings permit.

Even the ICANN board of directors is affected — due to the annual turnover, some members haven’t even met each other face-to-face in a board context.

Mixed messages from ICANN on pandemic travel in 2021

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN still hasn’t formally cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico next March, but it appears to be planning for scheduled in-person gatherings to not resume until the fourth quarter of next year.

While nobody in their right mind seems to believe ICANN 70 will go ahead anywhere other than virtually — and ICANN’s top brass acknowledged in October that a face-to-face community forum appeared highly unlikely — the Org has still not announced that it will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom.

But two recently published documents show that ICANN doesn’t see travel getting back to normal any time soon, though its expected timing is ambiguous.

First, the proposed budget for fiscal 2022, which was published on Friday, envisages pandemic-related travel restrictions for only “the first nine months” of its current FY21, which ends June 30 next year.

That means that ICANN, at least in its travel budget, still thinks there’s a chance that international travel may be an option as early as April next year. Its travel budget for this year is $4.7 million, which certainly suggests one normal public meeting.

That would rule out Cancun, but leaves open the possibility that June 14-17 public meeting in The Hague could actually go ahead.

The budget also assumes a normal level of travel spending for the whole of FY22, which would mean ICANN 72 in Seattle — a mere domestic flight for most ICANN staff and a good portion of the domain industry — would also take place in-person next October.

But a resolution passed by the ICANN board of directors last Thursday appears to have a more pessimistic outlook.

The board at that meeting approved the continuation of contingency plans for signing the cryptographic keys at the root of the DNS that would eliminate the need for travel until the fourth quarter of calendar 2021.

Normal, quarterly root Key-Signing Key ceremonies require a small number of trusted “secret key holders” to be flown from around the world into facilities in the US, carrying physical keys, to ensure the integrity of the process.

But those rules were tweaked under coronavirus lockdown last April to allow IANA employees to sub in for these key-holders.

Understanding that the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon, but perhaps with hindsight on the optimistic side, the KSK ceremony in April generated three quarters’ worth of keys in advance, enabling root DNSSEC until the end of March 2021.

Last Thursday, the ICANN board resolved to again bulk-generate keys during its next ceremony, to be held some time in the first quarter. The plan states:

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to continue to significantly impact operations well into 2021. To limit the impact on the ability to hold quarterly key ceremonies, the plan again provides for generating signatures for an extended nine-month period. This relieves the need to hold a subsequent key signing ceremony until the fourth quarter of 2021.

So, while the proposed budget thinks travel could return to normal by April, the KSK plans are thinking October could be the best-case scenario.

Vaccines appear to be the key, as you might expect:

Staff will continue to monitor the pandemic and prepare for all possible scenarios for this ceremony in accordance with the graduated approach. Should widespread vaccination programs prove to be successful, and international travel limitations be relaxed, it is conceivable a late-2021 ceremony could be conducted in its normal format with international in-person participation.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the chances of a normal in-person ICANN meeting going ahead before Seattle are pretty slim.

For vaccination programs to be successful, we’re going to need a combination of competent governments capable of handling an unprecedented logistical challenge and a largely sane, rationale populace willing to go under the needle en masse. I’m afraid I don’t have that much faith in humanity.

Even if everything goes smoothly, we’re still looking at the vaccine rollout taking a long time indeed. I live in the UK, the first country to roll out vaccinations at scale, and I don’t anticipate getting the jab for six months or more.

An unofficial calculator tool estimates that a middle-aged Brit with no diagnosed preexisting conditions cannot reasonably expect to get a vaccine until July 2021, assuming the UK manages to quickly ramp up to one million vaccinations per week and 70% of those eligible choose to take the shot.

If that’s true elsewhere in the world, and vaccination becomes a passport to travel, then any hypothetical June face-to-face ICANN meeting could resemble a senior care home or retirement village even more than usual.

Not so much Club Med as a Saga Holiday.

And none of this takes into account the potential impact of the super-spreadable new coronavirus strain discovered to be hugely prevalent in the UK last week.

While it’s early days, it seems there’s a significant possibility that what I’m calling the limeyvirus (because what goes better with Corona than lime?) is going to significantly impact travel worldwide in the coming months.

No ICANN meetings until 2021

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2020, Domain Policy

Community members itching to be able to suck up to (or berate) ICANN staffers in person rather than over the phone or videoconferencing will have to wait a little longer.

The Org announced today that all face-to-face meetings have been cancelled until the end of the year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It doesn’t affect any of the big public meetings — the AGM in October was relocated from Hamburg to Zoom a few months ago — but regular business travel and intersessional meetings are hit.

It also means ICANN staffers will continue to work from home until January at the earliest, ICANN said.

The health and safety of our community and staff are always our top concern, and we believe it is not prudent to travel or encourage gatherings until at least the end of 2020. The ongoing and long-term health impact of COVID-19 on our community and staff is a risk that we are not willing to take. In addition, the travel landscape has not yet stabilized, which makes any travel complicated and risky.

Call me a pessimist, but I’d be very surprised if this is the last time the travel ban is extended.

GoDaddy signs up for basically unrestricted .travel gTLD

Donuts has started to market the now practically prehistoric and newly liberalized gTLD .travel, and it’s signed up GoDaddy to offer domains there.

The registry, which acquired .travel from former owner Tralliance in February, announced a soft relaunch on its blog last week, highlighting that GoDaddy, Name.com and Encirca are now among its registrars.

GoDaddy appears to be only new signing there — Encirca and Name.com have been carrying .travel from long before Donuts got involved and are in fact its two largest registrars.

The big daddy of the registrar space appears to have become interested after Donuts “simplified” the process of registering .travel domains. Donuts said:

Since the acquisition, Donuts has simplified the registration process, enabling registrants to stay on the registrar’s website for the entirety of the registration/checkout process. Donuts believes that this streamlined registration process will increase registrations, as compared to the previous process, which was disjointed and complex for registrants.

What this seems to translate to is: .travel is essentially an unrestricted TLD, despite being applied for in 2003’s round of “sponsored” gTLDs.

If you attempt to register a .travel domain at GoDaddy today, the only additional friction en route to the purchase button is a simple, prominent check-box asking you to confirm you are a member of the travel community.

That’s apparently enough for Donuts to say it has fulfilled the part of its ICANN contract that says it has to carry out a “review of Eligibility prior to completion of all registrations.”

Under its previous ownership, .travel required registrars to bounce their customers to the registry web site to obtain an authentication code during the registration process.

.travel names are still pretty pricey — GoDaddy was going to hit me with a bill of over $110 before I abandoned my cart, and that was just a year-one promotional price.

The gTLD peaked at 215,000 domains 10 years ago but now sits at under 18,000, having seen slight declines every month for the past five years.

Donuts may make .travel names easier to buy after acquiring its first legacy gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts has added .travel to its swelling portfolio of gTLDs, under a deal with original registry Tralliance announced today.

It’s the company’s first acquisition of a legacy, pre-2012 gTLD, and the first “community” gTLD to join its stable of strings, which now stands at 239.

.travel went live in 2005, a part of ICANN’s 2003 round of “sponsored” TLD applications.

As a sponsored TLD, .travel has eligibility and authentication requirements, but executive vice president Jon Nevett told DI that Donuts will look at “tinkering with” the current process to make domains easier to buy.

The current system requires what amounts to basically a self-declaration that you belong to the travel community, he said, but you have to visit the registry’s web site to obtain an authentication code before a registrar will let you buy a .travel domain.

Given that the community captured by .travel is extremely broad — you could be somebody blogging about their vacations and qualify — it seems to be a barrier of limited usefulness.

Nevett said Donuts has no immediate plans to migrate the TLD away from the Neustar back-end upon which it currently sits.

The rest of its portfolio runs on its own in-house registry platform, and one imagines that .travel will wind up there one day.

While .travel is one of Donuts most-expensive domains — priced at $99 retail at its own Name.com registrar — Nevett said there are no plans to cut pricing as yet.

There may be discounts, he said, and possibly promotions involving bundling with other travel-related gTLDs in its portfolio.

Donuts already runs .city, .holiday, .flights, .cruises, .vacations and several other thematically synergistic name spaces.

.travel had about 18,000 domains registered at the last count, with EnCirca, Name.com, 101domain, Key-Systems and CSC Corporate as its top five registrars.

It peaked 10 years ago at just under 215,000 registrations, largely due to to speculative bulk registrations made by parties connected to the registry that were dumped a couple of years later.

It’s been at under 20,000 names for the last five years, shrinking by small amounts every year.

The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.

ICANN slashes millions from its budget

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has cut $5 million from its annual budget, warning the community that difficult decisions have to be made amid a slowing domain name market.

Staff and community members will all be affected by the cuts, whether in the form of less generous pay raises or fewer travel opportunities.

Cuts have also been proposed to international outreach, tech support, contractual compliance and translation services.

The organization at the weekend published for comment its proposed budget for fiscal 2019. That’s the year that begins July 1, 2018.

It would see ICANN spend $138 million, $5 million less than it expects to spend in fiscal 2018.

Four of the five top-line areas ICANN reports expenses will be cut for a total of $12 million in savings, while one of them — personnel — is going up by $7.3 million.

This rounds out to a $5 million cut to the total FY19 ICANN budget. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Personnel costs going up from $69.5 million to $76.8 million, up $7.3 million.
  • Travel and meetings costs are to go down from $17.8 million to $15.6 million, a $2.2 million saving.
  • Professional services costs will go down from $27.7 million to $23.4 million, a $4.3 million saving.
  • Administration and capital costs will go down from $22.5 million to $17.8 million, a $4.7 million saving.
  • The contingency budget is going down from $5.3 million to $4.5 million, a $800,000 saving.

Personnel costs are going up due to a combination of new hires and pay rises, but the average annual pay rise will be halved from 4% to 2%, saving $1.3 million, ICANN documentation states.

Headcount is expected to level out at about 425, up from the current 400, by the end of FY19.

The travel budget is going down due to a combination of cuts to services provided at the three annual meetings and the number of people ICANN reimburses for going to them.

The Fellows program — sometimes criticized for giving people what look like free vacations for little measurable return — is seeing the biggest headcount cut here. ICANN will only pay for 30 Fellows to go its meetings in FY19, half the level of FY18. The Next Gen program, a similar outreach program for yoof participants, goes down to 15 people from 20.

The Governmental Advisory Committee will get its number of funded seats reduced by 10 to 40. The ALAC and the ccNSO also each lose a few seats. Other constituencies are unaffected.

At the meetings themselves, translation is to be scaled back to be provided on an as-requested basis, rather than automatically translating everything into all six UN languages. Key sessions will continue to have live interpretation.

Outside of the three main meetings, ICANN is pulling back on plans to expand its irregular “capacity building” workshops in “under-served” areas of the world.

It’s also slashing the “additional budget request” budget by 50%.

In terms of compliance, a proposed Technical Compliance Monitoring system that was going to be built this year — a way to make sure gTLD registries and registrars are stable and secure — appears to be at risk of being deprioritized.

ICANN said it “will develop an implementation plan in due time, depending on the RFP results and, if needed, work with the Board to identify necessary resources and funds to support implementation of the project.”

The documents published today are now open for public comment until March 8.

The cuts I’ve reported here can be found from page 19 of this document (pdf).

The reason for the cutbacks is that ICANN’s revenue isn’t growing as fast as it once did, due to the slower than expected growth of the domain name industry in general. I’ll get to that a later article.

URS arrives in three legacy gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2015, Domain Policy

The legacy gTLDs .cat, .pro and .travel will all be subject to the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy from now on.

Earlier this week, ICANN approved the new Registry Agreements, which are based on the new gTLD RA and include URS, for all three.

URS is an anti-cybersquatting policy similar to UDRP. It’s faster and cheaper than UDRP but has a higher burden of proof and only allows domains to be suspended rather than transferred.

The inclusion of the policy in pre-2012 gTLDs caused a small scandal when it was revealed a few months ago.

Critics, particularly the Internet Commerce Association, said that URS (unlike UDRP) is not a Consensus Policy and therefore should not be forced on registries.

ICANN responded that adding URS to the new contracts came about in bilateral negotiations with the registries.

The board said in its new resolutions this week:

the Board’s approval of the Renewal Registry Agreement is not a move to make the URS mandatory for any legacy TLDs, and it would be inappropriate to do so. In the case of .CAT, inclusion of the URS was developed as part of the proposal in bilateral negotiations between the Registry Operator and ICANN.

The concern for ICA and others is that URS may one day be forced into the .com RA, putting domainer portfolios at increased risk.

URS fight brewing at ICANN 53

Should the Uniform Rapid Suspension process spread from new gTLDs to incumbent gTLDs, possibly including .com?

That’s been the subject of some strong disagreements during the opening weekend of ICANN 53, which formally kicks off in Buenos Aires today.

During sessions of the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the ICANN board and staff, ICANN was accused of trying to circumvent policy-making processes by forcing URS into the .travel, .pro and .cat registry agreements, which are up for renewal.

ICANN executives denied doing any such thing, saying the three registries volunteered to have URS included in their new contracts, which are modeled on the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement.

“It’s just something we’ve suggested and they’ve taken up,” said Cyrus Namazi, ICANN’s vice president of domain name services.

If a registry wants to increase the number of rights protection mechanisms in its gTLD, why not let them, ICANN execs asked, pointing out that loads of new gTLDs have implemented extra RPMs voluntarily.

ICANN admits that it stands to benefit from operational efficiencies when its registry agreements are more uniform.

Opponents pointed out that there’s a difference between Donuts, say, having its bespoke, voluntary Domain Protected Marks List, and bilaterally putting the URS into an enforceable ICANN contract.

URS is not a formal Consensus Policy, they say, unlike UDRP. Consensus Policies apply to all gTLDs, whereas URS was created by ICANN for new gTLDs alone.

Arguably leading the fight against URS osmosis is Phil Corwin, counsel for Internet Commerce Association, which doesn’t want its clients’ vast portfolios of .com domains subject to URS.

He maintained over the weekend that his beef was with the process through which URS was making its way into proposed legacy gTLD contracts.

It shouldn’t be forced upon legacy gTLDs without a Consensus Policy, he said.

While the GNSO, ICANN staff and board spent about an hour talking about “process” over the weekend, it was left to director Chris Disspain to point out that that was basically a smokescreen for an argument about whether the URS should be used in other gTLDs.

He’s right, but the GNSO is split on this issue in unusual ways.

Corwin enjoys the support of the Business Constituency, of which he is a member, in terms of his process criticisms if not his criticisms of RPMs more generally.

ICA does also have backing from some registrars (which bear the support costs of dealing with customers affected by URS), from the pro-registrant Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, and from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Intellectual Property Constituency thinks that the process is just fine — .travel et al can sign up to URS if they want to.

While the registries have not yet put forward a joint position, the IPC’s view has been more or less echoed by Donuts, which owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs.

The public comment period for the .travel contract ended yesterday. Comments can be read here. Comment periods on .cat and .pro close July 7.

Two more legacy gTLDs agree to use URS

The registries behind .pro and .cat have agreed to new ICANN contracts with changes that, among other things, would bring the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy to the two gTLDs.

Both gTLD Registry Agreements expire this year. Proposed replacement contracts, based heavily on the base New gTLD Registry Agreement, have been published by ICANN for public comment.

They’re the second and third pre-2012 gTLDs to agree to use URS, which gives trademark owners a simpler, cheaper way to have infringing domains yanked.

Two weeks ago, .travel agreed to the same changes, which drew criticisms from the organization that represents big domain investors.

Phil Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association is worried that ICANN is trying to make URS a de facto consensus policy and thereby bring it to .com, which is still where most domainers have most of their assets.

Following DI’s report about .travel, Corwin wrote last week:

this proposed Registry Agreement (RA) contains a provision through which staff is trying to preempt community discussion and decide a major policy issue through a contract with a private party. And that very big issue is whether Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) should be a consensus policy applicable to all gTLDs, including incumbents like .Com and .Net.

ICANN needs to hear from the global Internet community, in significant volume, that imposing the URS on an incumbent gTLD is unacceptable because it would mean that ICANN staff, not the community, is determining that URS should be a consensus policy and thereby undermining the entire bottom-up policy process. Domain suspensions are serious business – in fact they were at the heart of the SOPA proposal that inspired millions of emails to the US Congress in opposition.

The concern about .com may be a bit over-stated.

Verisign’s current .com contract is presumptively renewed November 2018 provided that it adopts terms similar to those in place at the five next-largest gTLDs.

Given that .net is the second-largest gTLD, and that .net does not have URS, we’d have to either see .net’s volume plummet or at least five new gTLDs break through the 15 million domains mark in the next three years, both of which seem extraordinarily unlikely, for .com to be forced to adopt URS.

However, if URS has become an industry standard by then, political pressure could be brought to bear regardless.

Other changes to .pro and .cat contracts include a change in ICANN fees.

While .pro appears to have been on the standard new gTLD fee scheme since 2012, .cat is currently paying ICANN $1 per transaction.

Under the new contract, .cat would pay $0.25 per transaction instead, but its annual fixed fee would increase from $10,000 to $25,000.

URS coming to .travel under big contract changes

The .travel gTLD, which was approved 10 years ago, will have to support the Uniform Rapid Suspension service, one of several significant changes proposed for its ICANN contract.

I believe it’s the first legacy gTLD to agree to use URS, which gives trademark owners a way to remove domain names that infringe their marks that is quicker and cheaper than UDRP.

Tralliance, the registry, saw its .travel Registry Agreement expire earlier this month. It’s been extended and the proposed new version, based on the New gTLD Registry Agreement, is now open for public comment.

While the adoption of URS may not have much of a direct impact — .travel is a restricted TLD with fewer than 20,000 names under management — it sets an interesting precedent.

IP interests have a keen interest in having URS cover more than just 2012-round gTLDs. They want it to cover .com, .org, .net and the rest too.

Domain investors, meanwhile, are usually cautious about any changes that tilt the balance of power in favor of big brands.

When .biz, .org and .info came up for renewal in 2013, the Intellectual Property Constituency filed comments asking for URS to be implemented in the new contracts, but the request was not heard.

I’m aware of two ccTLDs — .pw and .us — that voluntarily adopted URS in their zones.

Other changes include a requirement for all .travel registrars, with the exception of those already selling .travel domains, to be signatories of the stricter 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

That’s something Afilias and Neustar only agreed to put in their .info and .biz contracts if Verisign agrees to the same provisions for .com and .net.

The fees Tralliance pays ICANN have also changed.

It currently pays $10,000 in fixed fees every year and $2 per billable transaction. I estimate this works out at something like $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

The proposed new contract has the same fees as 2012-round new gTLDs — a $25,000 fixed fee and $0.25 per transaction. The transaction fee only kicks in after 50,000 names, however, and that’s volume .travel hasn’t seen in over five years.

Tralliance will probably save itself thousands under the new deal.

The contract public comment forum can be found here.

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