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ICA rallies the troops to defeat .org price hikes. It won’t work

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2019, Domain Registries

Over 100 letters have been sent to ICANN opposing the proposed lifting of price caps in .org, after the Internet Commerce Association reached out to rally its supporters.

This is an atypically large response to an ICANN public comment period, and there are four days left on the clock for more submissions to be made, but I doubt it will change ICANN’s mind.

Almost all of the 131 comments filed so far this month were submitted in the 24 hours after ICA published its comment submission form earlier this week.

About a third of the comments comprise simply the unedited ICA text. Others appeared to have been inspired by the campaign to write their own complaints about the proposal, which would scrap the 10%-a-year .org price increase cap Public Interest Registry currently has in place.

Zak Muscovitch, ICA’s general counsel, told DI that as of this morning the form generates different template text dynamically. I’ve spotted at least four completely different versions of the letter just by refreshing the page. This may make some comments appear to be the original thoughts of their senders.

This is the original text, as it relates to price caps:

I believe that legacy gTLDs are fundamentally different from for-profit new gTLDs. Legacy TLDs are essentially a public trust, unlike new gTLDs which were created, bought and paid for by private interests. Registrants of legacy TLDs are entitled to price stability and predictability, and should not be subject to price increases with no maximums. Unlike new gTLDs, registrants of legacy TLDs registered their names and made their online presence on legacy TLDs on the basis that price caps would continue to exist.

Unrestrained price increases on the millions of .org registrants who are not-for-profits or non-profits would be unfair to them. Unchecked price increases have the potential to result in hundreds of millions of dollars being transferred from these organizations to one non-profit, the Internet Society, with .org registrants receiving no benefit in return. ICANN should not allow one non-profit nearly unlimited access to the funds of other non-profits.

The gist of the other texts is the same — it’s not fair to lift price caps on domains largely used by non-profits that may have budget struggles and which have built their online presences on the old, predictable pricing rules.

The issues raised are probably fair, to a point.

Should the true “legacy” gTLDs — .com, .net and .org — which date from the 1980s and pose very little commercial risk to their registries, be treated the same as the exceptionally risky gTLD businesses that have been launched since?

Does changing the pricing rules amount to unfairly moving the goal posts for millions of registrants who have built their business on the legacy rules?

These are good, valid questions.

But I think it’s unlikely that the ICA’s campaign will get ICANN to change its mind. The opposition would have to be broader than from a single interest group.

First, the message about non-profits rings a bit hollow coming from an explicitly commercial organization whose members’ business model entails flipping domain names for large multiples.

If a non-profit can’t afford an extra 10 bucks a year for a .org renewal, can it afford the hundreds or thousands of dollars a domainer would charge for a transfer?

Even if PIR goes nuts, abandons its “public interest” mantra, and immediately significantly increases its prices, the retail price of a .org (currently around $20 at GoDaddy, which has about a third of all .orgs) would be unlikely to rise to above the price of PIR-owned .ong and .ngo domains, which sell for $32 to $50 retail.

Such an increase might adversely affect a small number of very low-budget registrants, but the biggest impact will be felt by the big for-profit portfolio owners: domainers.

Second, letter-writing campaigns don’t have a strong track record of persuading ICANN to change course.

The largest such campaign to date was organized by registrars in 2015 in response to proposals, made by members of the Privacy and Proxy Services Accreditation Issues working group, that would have would have essentially banned Whois privacy for commercial web sites.

Over 20,000 people signed petitions or sent semi-automated comments opposing that recommendation, and ICANN ended up not approving that specific proposal.

But the commercial web site privacy ban was a minority position written by IP lawyers, included as an addendum to the group’s recommendations, and it did not receive the consensus of the PPSAI working group.

In other words, ICANN almost certainly would not have implemented it anyway, due to lack of consensus, even if the public comment period had been silent.

The second-largest public comment period concerned the possible approval of .xxx in 2010, which attracted almost 14,000 semi-automated comments from members of American Christian-right groups and pornographers.

.xxx was nevertheless approved less than a year later.

ICANN also has a track record of not acceding to ICA’s demands when it comes to changes in registry agreements for pre-2012 gTLDs.

ICA, under former GC Phil Corwin, has also strongly objected to similar changes in .mobi, .jobs, .cat, .xxx and .travel over the last few years, and had no impact.

ICANN seems hell-bent on normalizing its gTLD contracts to the greatest extent possible. It’s also currently proposing to lift the price caps on .biz and .info.

This, through force of precedent codified in the contracts, could lead to the price caps one day, many years from now, being lifted on .com.

Which, let’s face it, is what most people really care about.

Info on the .org contract renewal public comment period can be found here.

.com outsells new gTLDs by 2:1 in 2018

The number of registered .com domains increased by more than double the growth of all new gTLDs last year, according to figures from Verisign.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief reports that .com grew by 7.1 million names in 2018, while new gTLDs grew by 3.2 million names.

.com ended the year with 139 million registered names, while the whole new gTLD industry finished with 23.8 million.

It wasn’t all good news for Verisign, however. Its .net gTLD shrunk by 500,000 names over the period, likely due to the ongoing impact of the new gTLD program.

New gTLDs now account for 6.8% of all registered domains, compared to 6.2% at the end of 2017, Verisign’s numbers state.

Country codes fared better than .com in terms of raw regs, growing by 8.2 million domains to finish 2018 with 154.3 million names.

But that’s including .tk, the free ccTLD where dropping or abusive domains are reclaimed and parked by the registry and never expire.

Excluding .tk, ccTLDs were up by 6.6 million names in the year. Verisign estimates .tk as having a modest 21.5 million names.

The latest DNIB, and quarterly archives, can be downloaded from here.

Root servers whacked after crypto change

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2019, Domain Tech

The DNS root servers came under accidental attack from name servers across the internet following ICANN’s recent changes to their cryptographic master keys, according to Verisign.

The company, which runs the A and J root servers, said it saw requests for DNSSEC data at the root increase from 15 million a day in October to 1.15 billion a day a week ago.

The cause was the October 11 root Key Signing Key rollover, the first change ICANN had made to the “trust anchor” of DNSSEC since it came online at the root in 2010.

The KSK rollover saw ICANN change the cryptographic keys that rest at the very top of the DNSSEC hierarchy.

The move was controversial. ICANN delayed it for a year after learning about possible disruption at internet endpoints. Its Security and Stability Advisory Committee and even its own board were not unanimous that the roll should go ahead.

But the warnings were largely about the impact on internet users, rather than on the root servers themselves, and the impact was minimal.

Verisign is now saying that requests to its roots for DNSSEC key data increased from 15 million per day to 75 million per day, a five-fold increase, almost overnight.

It was not until January, when the old KSK was marked as “revoked”, did the seriously mahooosive traffic growth begin, however. Verisign’s distinguished engineer Duane Wessels wrote:

Everyone involved expected this to be a non-event. However, we instead saw an even bigger increase in DNSKEY queries coming from a population of root server clients. As of March 21, 2019, Verisign’s root name servers receive about 1.15 billion DNSKEY queries per day, which is 75 times higher than pre-rollover levels and nearly 7 percent of our total steady state query traffic.

Worryingly, the traffic only seemed to be increasing, until March 22, when the revoked key was removed from the root entirely.

Wessels wrote that while the root operators are still investigating, “it would seem that the presence of the revoked key in the zone triggered some unexpected behavior in a population of validating resolvers.”

The root operators hope to have answers in the coming weeks, he wrote.

The next KSK rollover is not expected for years, and the root traffic is now returning to normal levels, so there’s no urgency.

The DNS’s former overseer now has its own domain name

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Policy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which for many years was the instrument of the US government’s oversight of the DNS root zone, has got its first proper domain name.

It’s been operating at ntia.doc.gov forever, but today announced that it’s upgrading to the second-level ntia.gov.

The agency said the switch “will make NTIA’s site consistent with most other Department of Commerce websites”.

Staff there will also get new ntia.gov email addresses, starting from today. Their old addresses will continue to forward.

NTIA was part of the DNS root management triumvirate, along with ICANN/IANA and Verisign, until the IANA transition in 2016.

The agency still has a contractual relationship with Verisign concerning the operation of .com.

Verisign gets approval to sell O.com for $7.85

ICANN is to grant Verisign the right to sell a single-character .com domain name for the first time in over 25 years.

The organization’s board of directors is due to vote next Thursday to approve a complex proposal that would see Verisign auction off o.com, with almost all of the proceeds going to good causes.

“Approval of Amendment to Implement the Registry Service Request from Verisign to Authorize the Release for Registration of the Single-Character, Second-Level Domain, O.COM” is on the consent agenda for the board’s meeting at the conclusion of ICANN 64, which begins Saturday in Kobe, Japan.

Consent agenda placement means that there will likely be no further discussion — and no public discussion — before the board votes to approve the deal.

Verisign plans to auction the domain to the highest bidder, and then charge premium renewal fees that would essentially double the purchase price over a period of 25 years.

But the registry, already under scrutiny over its money-printing .com machine, would be banned from profiting from the sale.

Instead, Verisign would only receive its base registry fee — currently $7.85 per year — with the rest being held by an independent third party that would distribute the funds to worthy non-profit causes.

ICANN had referred the Verisign proposal, first put forward in December 2016, to the US government, and the Department of Justice gave it the nod in December 2017.

There was also a public comment period last May.

The request almost certainly came about due to Overstock.com’s incessant lobbying. The retailer has been obsessed with obtaining o.com for well over a decade, but was hamstrung by the legacy policy, enshrined in the .com registry agreement, that forbids the sale of single-character domains.

Whoever else wants to buy o.com, they’ll be bidding against Overstock, which has a trademark.

It’s quite possible nobody else will bid.

When Overstock briefly rebranded as O.co several years ago — it paid $350,000 for that domain — it said it saw 61% of its traffic going to o.com instead.

All single-character .com names that had not already been registered were reserved by IANA for technical reasons in 1993, well before ICANN took over DNS policy.

Today, only q.com, z.com and x.com are registered. Billionaire Elon Musk, who used x.com to launch PayPal, reacquired that domain for an undisclosed sum in 2017. GMO Internet bought z.com for $6.8 million in 2014.

With the sale of o.com now a near certainty, it is perhaps only a matter of time before more single-character .com names are also released.

No gTLD approved after 2012 has a restriction on single-character domains.

As a matter of disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.