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Nominet rebels dominate directorship slate

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2021, Domain Registries

Nominet has named the six people nominated for its two open non-executive director positions, and the slate is very much slanted towards the new postbellum reality of UK domain politics.

The PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which saw the CEO forced out and half the board fired at an EGM earlier this year, leading to a broad suite of proposed reforms, has a strong presence on the candidate list.

Simon Blackler of Krystal Hosting, who created and spearheaded the campaign, is standing for one of the so-called “NED” seats. He is also named as a proposer/seconder of two of his rival candidates.

This PublicBenefit slate includes Ashley La Bolle, recently promoted head of domains at Tucows, and consultant and former lawyer Jim Davies, both of whom have Blackler’s endorsement.

La Bolle’s candidacy statement focuses on the need for increased transparency and member engagement, while Davies stands on a platform of constitutional and financial reform.

In his endorsements, Blackler cites Tucows’ endorsement of the PublicBenefit campaign as a crucial turning point in its ultimate success, and Davies’ resignation from the Nominet board in 2009, in which he cited high executive pay and low transparency as reasons for his departure.

One incumbent NED is standing for re-election, David Thornton. Nominated by Michele Neylon and Jothan Frakes, Thornton has a platform based on governance and structural rebalancing.

Internet policy all-rounder Liz Williams is also standing, talking up her extensive experience in areas such as ICANN, privacy and security.

Then there’s Bulgaria-based Brit Stephen Yarrow, whose main policy concerns appear to be raising Nominet’s profile and distancing .uk from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Nominet members should already have been sent the election materials. Everyone else can read them here (pdf).

Votes will be cast November 18 at Nominet’s Annual General Meeting. There are two seats available.

Almost no security researchers asking for Whois records – Tucows

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2021, Domain Registrars

Security researchers are not asking for private Whois records in anywhere near the numbers you might have been led to believe, according to data released this week by Tucows.

The registrar revealed that it received just one request from the security community between September 2020 and the end of August 2021. That’s not even 1% of the total.

Over the same period, the “commercial litigators” category, presumably including intellectual property interests going after suspected cybersquatters, were behind 87% of requests.

About 9% of requests came from law enforcement agencies, Tucows said.

The company said that it disclosed private registrant data in 74% of cases. It denied the requests in 9% of cases. Other requests were incomplete or abandoned.

Tucows has been offering a Tiered Access service for its Whois records since the General Data Protection Regulation came into effect in May 2018. It has received 4,478 requests since then.

Disclosure: I sold Tucows shares

Kevin Murphy, May 21, 2021, Gossip

TL;DR — I made about $3,700 selling Tucows shares.

I’ve never been much of an investor in anything, largely because I’ve never really had the disposable income. However, back in 2006, when I lived in the US, I opened an online share-trading account and bought around $1,000 worth of shares in various technology companies.

The companies included what at the time I considered safe bets: Dell, AMD, Yahoo! and Adobe. Everyone still uses Yahoo, right?

But I also bought 50 shares of Tucows, the domain name registrar, for $3.75 a pop. I recall being inspired by a post from original ICANN blogger Bret Fausett, who coincidentally now works for Tucows, in which he touted the stock.

I left the US at the end of 2007 and went travelling for a while before returning to the UK.

At some point in 2009, when I tried to sell up and close the account, I was told that because I no longer had the US bank account I signed up with, I would be unable to access the funds.

So I pretty much chalked the experience down to an idiot tax and forgot all about it.

In 2010 I launched this web site.

Recently, I remembered the account and, trading platform policies having changed in the meantime, discovered I probably would be able to access the funds after all.

That $1,000 had turned into over $19,000 over the intervening 15 years, and the Tucows position had grown by almost 2,000%, a gain of over $3,700.

I’ve sold all my shares and am in the process of closing the account. After that, I won’t own any shares in any companies.

In short, I’m probably going to make a few grand by selling Tucows stock that I’ve owned for the last 15 years but which, until recently, I thought I’d lost forever.

Make of that what you will.

I’m disclosing it now not because I think I’ve had any market-moving impact on the stock over the years, but because it just seems like the kind of thing that needs to be disclosed.

Earnings reports: GoDaddy, Tucows and NameSilo report growth

Three of the industry’s largest registrars announced revenue growth in their latest reporting periods in recent days.

GoDaddy

Market-leading GoDaddy reported a whopping 18.8% year-over-year revenue growth from domains in its first quarter, with $422.7 million.

CEO Aman Bhutani told analysts that much of this growth is being driven by the company’s emerging strategy of acting as a secondary-market intermediary, making it easier for domainers to sell their domains quickly to end-users (what it calls “independent customers”) and vice-versa.

“Independent customers added over 200,000 domain names that had otherwise been passive into the aftermarket, spurring activity for domain investors,” Bhutani said.

It currently has over 20 million domains listed on its aftermarket platform, contributing 10% of total revenue, the first time it’s broken into double-digits, analysts were told.

Domains was the best-performing segment in growth terms by some margin.

Including its other segments, GoDaddy’s overall Q1 revenue was up 13.8% year over year, at $901.1 million. It had a net income of $10.8 million, compared to $43.2 million a year earlier.

Tucows

Tucows reported domain services revenue up 4%, from $59.5 million in Q1 2020 to $61.2 million, with adjusted EBIDTA of $13.8 million versus $11.5 million a year ago.

CEO Elliot Noss said in a statement that new domain registration growth was slowing following the “pandemic surge” it experienced in 2020, when lockdown-hit businesses flew online to keep afloat.

Including its non-domain segments, Tucows reported Q1 revenue of $70.9 million. That was down from $84 million a year earlier largely as a result of the sale of its Ting Mobile business to Dish Network.

Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, down 24% compared to the year-ago period.

NameSilo

Fast-growing registrar NameSilo reported revenue for its full-year 2020 of $31 million, up 14.3% on 2019. That was primarily driven by domains growth and its newish add-on services, it said, but it does not break down its revenue by segment.

It had net income of $6.5 million in fiscal 2020, compared to a net loss of $4 million in 2019.

It added 235,347 net domains in gTLDs in 2020, according to reports filed with ICANN, ending 2020 with 3,663,090 names under management. NameSilo said that number is now around 3.9 million.

Stick a fork in Nominet’s leadership. Tucows votes to fire half the board

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2021, Domain Registries

Tucows has become the latest registrar to say it will vote to fire five of Nominet’s 11 directors, including its CEO and chair, making the success of the ongoing member-driven coup pretty much inevitable.

The company said yesterday that it has already voted for the PublicBenefit.uk campaign’s motion, to be considered at the .uk registry’s Emergency General Meeting on Monday.

Tucows is Nominet’s fourth-largest registrar, with 381,468 domains under management. Its voting rights are capped at 3% of the total.

PublicBenefit.uk now says it has 29.1% of all votes backing its campaign, with 473 members signed up.

Because the threshold to pass its resolution is a simple majority of those who actually turn out to vote on the day, the likelihood of the five directors surviving the EGM are now surely negligible.

The first motion kicks out CEO Russell Haworth, chair Mark Wood, CFO Ben Hill, registry managing director Eleanor Bradley and appointed non-executive director Jane Tozer.

The second, which Nominet refused to put on the ballot, would have appointed two new directors: Sir Michael Lyons, who will serve as chair, and Axel Pawlik, deputy chair. Lyons is a former chair of the BBC Trust, who in 2015 oversaw a review into Nominet’s corporate governance. Pawlik is a former MD of European IP address registry RIPE-NCC.

Both have promised to refocus Nominet by abandoning its attempts to diversify into commercial areas such as cybersecurity, while also reducing .uk wholesale prices and donating more of its profits to public benefit causes.

In throwing its weight behind the resolution, Tucows’ director of domains Ashley La Bolle said in a blog post:

Most registries, but particularly country code registries are, or should be, very profitable operations. A country code TLD is also a public asset and an important component of a nation’s critical infrastructure. The registry should have a narrow and focused mandate, deliver a stable and secure service, operate in a risk-averse manner, and manage costs appropriately. As a public asset, surplus funds from the operation of a registry should be delivered to thoughtful and relevant public benefit initiatives, while also containing and reducing costs for the millions of businesses and consumers that use and rely on the domain names.

It’s the second of Nominet’s top 10 registrars to back PublicBenefit.uk, after #7 Namecheap, which has 201,355 .uk names under management.

The Internet Commerce Association, which represents the interest of domain investors but is not a Nominet member, said it took no position on the resolution, but broadly supported the overarching goals:

The ICA urges Nominet members to support efforts to restore Nominet’s core mission to operate the registry at cost as a not-for profit. Nominet’s management should never raise registration fees beyond what it takes to operate the registry in a prudent manner, with any excess revenue being directed to worthy causes and not to growing the breadth of Nominet’s limited mandate.

Those Nominet members who have pledged support for the board shakeup are being urged to give their voting proxy to Simon Blackler, who runs the registrar Krystal Hosting and initiated the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, before close of business UK time today.

Blackler says that almost all of these members have already voted.

It’s going to take an unprecedented turnout of Nominet’s remaining membership, with the vast majority opposed to the firings, to save these five directors at this point.

UPDATE: This article was updated shortly after its original posting to clarify that Nominet had refused to put the campaign’s second motion on the ballot.

The two biggest registrars knock it out of the park in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy and Tucows, the industry’s two largest registrars, both last week posted very strong second-quarter results due to the beneficial impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

Market-leader GoDaddy in particular seems to have knocked it out of the park, adding a ridiculous 400,000 net new customers during the April-June period, the strongest quarterly performance in the company’s 20-year history.

The company reported domains revenue of $369.6 million, up 10.5% on the year-ago quarter, its strongest-performing segment.

Tucows, meanwhile, reported domains revenue essentially flat at $60 million, but pointed to registration growth as an indicator of its showing.

Tucows CEO Eliot Noss said in prerecorded remarks that new registrations from its reseller channel were up 41% in the quarter, with overall wholesale registrations up 7% to 4.3 million.

In the retail channel, domains under management was up 9% year-over-year to 400,000, with new registrations up more than 20%.

The CEOs of both companies were unambiguous that the coronavirus pandemic could take credit for their results. Noss said:

As expected, in Q2 we saw the full effects of the pandemic that we began to experience toward the end of Q1, with businesses globally moving quickly online, and displaced workers turning to entrepreneurship as the next stage in their career paths. A large proportion of that new registration activity was those resellers who focus on helping small and micro-sized businesses and start-ups establish a web presence for the first time.

GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani characterized the virus as a catalyst for businesses stubbornly remaining offline to finally get a web presence, telling analysts:

COVID-19 has pushed a number of people past the point of inertia where they were not adopting digital… because people have no choice but to go digital to support their businesses, we’re seeing people experimenting with ideas. We’re seeing people come online, even though they had hesitated to do it in the past.

Overall, GoDaddy reported revenue up 9.4% at $806.4 million. Its net loss was $673.2 million, due mostly to a one-time tax-related payment.

Tucows overall revenue was $82.1 million, down from $84.1 million, largely due to the drag factor of its recently restructured Ting Mobile business. Net income was $157,000, down from $2.6 million.

Tucows sells off Ting business, retreats into the back-end

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2020, Domain Registrars

Tucows has sold its Ting Mobile brand and customer based to DISH Network, repositioning itself as a provider of white-label back-end mobile services.

The company which is also the second-largest domain registrar, has found success in recent years as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) with Ting. Following the DISH deal, it will become a mobile services enabler, or MSE.

It’s basically a move away from providing customer-facing mobile services. Instead, it will provide the back-end technology platform, and DISH is its first customer.

CEO Elliot Noss said in a prerecorded statement:

We still get asked about the connective tissue between Domains and the mobile business, and it all boils down to our competence in billing, provisioning, and customer service for underserved technology markets.

He added that Tucows has been approached by other potential MSE partners over the years.

DISH gets to use the Ting brand for two years, with an option to acquire it at the end. Tucows will continue to offer Ting wired broadband services, but will change its name if DISH exercises the buyout option.

All Ting mobile customers have been handed over to DISH as of Saturday, but no money has changed hands up-front. Instead, Tucows expects to see increased margins over time from the cost savings and monthly fees DISH will pay it. It will also be paid for transitioning the business over to DISH.

Tucows expects the deal to be “neutral to slightly negative” to its 2020 earnings.

DISH is primarily a satellite television provider, but it entered the mobile market a month ago with the acquisition of Boost Mobile.

After killing the cows, what does the new Tucows logo remind you of?

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2019, Domain Registrars

Tucows has launched a refreshed corporate web site that features a new cow-free logo.

Judging by a video posted on the Tucows.com home page over the weekend, the redesign is largely intended to make the company more appealing to prospective employees, many of whom were confused about what exactly Tucows does.

It is of course the second-largest domain registrar by volume, via its Enom, OpenSRS, EPAG and Hover brands, as well as a virtual mobile phone operator in North America under the brand Ting.

There was a time when the site was a cluttered storefront, but all the customer-facing stuff has long since been devolved to the company’s various branded web sites.

Here are the two logos side by side.

Old Tucows LogoNew Tucows Logo

You’ll notice the cows no longer feature. In much the same way as GoDaddy killed off its cartoon “daddy” character last year, Tucows appears to be maturing out of its quirkier roots into a more professional-looking outfit.

Warner Music LogoBut what does the new logo remind you of? I was immediately put in mind of the Warner Music logo, which is basically a flipped version of the Tucows’ stylized W. They even have a similar color scheme.

It’s sufficiently different to avoid confusion, of course, but the similarities are very striking, I thought.

After more racist shootings, take one guess which registrar 8chan just switched to

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2019, Domain Registrars

Controversial web forum 8chan has moved its domain name to a new registrar after it was linked to at least one of the two mass shootings that occurred in the US over the weekend.

According to Whois records, it’s just jumped to racist-friendly Epik, having been registered at Tucows since 2003.

The switch appears to have happened in the last few hours. At time of writing, you’re going to get different results depending which Whois server you ping.

Some servers continue to report Tucows as the registrar of record, perhaps using cached data, but Epik’s result looks like this:

Whois output

8chan is an image/discussion board that describes itself as “the Darkest Reaches of the Internet”. It’s reportedly heavily used by racists, extremists and those with an interest in child pornography.

It was widely linked by the media to the shooting in the border town of El Paso, Texas on Saturday, which claimed the lives of 20 people and left 26 more injured.

The suspect in the case reportedly posted to 8chan a 2,300-word racist “manifesto”, in which he ranted against Latino immigration, just 20 minutes before launching the attack.

This morning, Cloudflare announced that it would no longer provide denial-of-service attack protection for the web site, saying:

The rationale is simple: they have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths. Even if 8chan may not have violated the letter of the law in refusing to moderate their hate-filled community, they have created an environment that revels in violating its spirit.

Google removed the site from its index a few years ago, due to allegations about child abuse material.

At this point, it’s not clear whether Tucows also ejected 8chan, or whether its owners decided to jump ship, perhaps sensing which way the wind is blowing.

Its new home, Epik, calls itself the “Swiss bank” of domain registrars, and has actively courted sites that enable far-right political views.

The registrar openly sought the business of Gab.com, the Twitter clone used largely by those who have been banned by Twitter, after GoDaddy suspended the site’s domain last November.

In March this year, Epik CEO Rob Monster came under fire for publicly doubting the veracity of the video of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 50 people.

8chan was also frequented by the perpetrator of that attack, among others.

Epik is described as “cornering the market on websites where hate speech is thriving”, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racist group.

Monster has said that he does not support the views of extremists, but merely wants to provide a platform where registrants can exercise their rights to free speech.

Tucows splurges $30 million on Ascio

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Registrars

Tucows has spent almost $30 million on rival channel-focused registrar Ascio Technologies.

The company announced this morning that the $29.44 million deal will add about 1.8 million domains to its portfolio of managed names, along with an extra 500 resellers.

Ascio was generating $4 million of annual EBITDA before the deal closed, Tucows said in a press release, adding:

The Ascio reseller base fits squarely with Tucows’ core customer profile — ISPs, web hosting companies and website builders serving quality businesses that reward outstanding customer service with long-term loyalty.

Ascio has been owned by CSC Digital Brand Services since 2016, when it was acquired as part of a bundle of registrars in the NetNames group.

As a channel play, it was not really a fit with CSC’s core brand-protection market. It is of course a fit with Tucows, which owns OpenSRS.

The deal, which closed yesterday, has reduced choice in the space, which may not sit well with some resellers.