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Thick Whois coming to .com next year, price rise to follow?

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2016, Domain Registries

Verisign could be running a “thick” Whois database for .com, .net and .jobs by mid-2017, under a new ICANN proposal.

A timetable published this week would see the final three hold-out gTLDs fully move over to the standard thick Whois model by February 2019, with the system live by next August.

Some people believe that Verisign might use the move as an excuse to increase .com prices.

Thick Whois is where the registry stores the full Whois record, containing all registrant contact data, for every domain in their TLD.

The three Verisign TLDs currently have “thin” Whois databases, which only store information about domain creation dates, the sponsoring registrar and name servers.

The model dates back to when the registry and registrar businesses of Verisign’s predecessor, Network Solutions, were broken up at the end of the last century.

But it’s been ICANN consensus policy for about three years for Verisign to eventually switch to a thick model.

Finally, ICANN has published for public comment its anticipated schedule (pdf) for this to happen.

Under the proposal, Verisign would have to start offering registrars the ability to put domains in its thick Whois by August 1 2017, both live via EPP and in bulk.

It would not become obligatory for registrars to submit thick Whois for all newly registered domains until May 1, 2018.

They’d have until February 1, 2019 to bulk-migrate all existing Whois records over to the new system.

Thick Whois in .com has been controversial for a number of reasons.

Some registrars have expressed dissatisfaction with the idea of migrating part of their customer relationship to Verisign. Others have had concerns that local data protection laws may prevent them moving data in bulk overseas.

The new proposal includes a carve-out that would let registrars request an exemption from the requirements if they can show it would conflict with local laws, which holds the potential to make a mockery out of the entire endeavor.

Some observers also believe that Verisign may use the expense of building and operating the new Whois system as an excuse to trigger talks with ICANN about increasing the price of .com from its current, frozen level.

Under its .com contract, Verisign can ICANN ask for a fee increase “due to the imposition of any new Consensus Policy”, which is exactly what the move to thick Whois is.

Whether it would choose to exercise this right is another question — .com is a staggeringly profitable cash-printing machine and this Whois is not likely to be that expensive, relatively speaking.

The proposed implementation timetable is open for public comment until December 15.

Root hits 1,500 live TLDs as US oversight ends

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2016, Domain Registries

The DNS root saw its 1,500th concurrent live TLD come into existence on Friday, just hours before the US relinquished its oversight powers.

Amazon received its delegation for .通販 (.xn--gk3at1e, Japanese for “online shopping”) and satellite TV company Hughes got .dvr, meaning “digital video recorder”.

That took the number of TLDs in the root to exactly 1,500, which is where it still stands today.

Both went live September 30, which was the final day of ICANN’s IANA contract with the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which expired that night.

An ICANN spokesperson confirmed that the two new gTLDs “were the last ones requiring NTIA’s approval.”

From now on, the small clerical role NTIA had when ICANN wanted to make changes to the root is no more.

The fact that it hit a nice round number the same day as ICANN oversight switched to a community-led approach is probably just a coincidence.

Amazon’s .通販 was almost banned for being too confusingly similar to “.shop”, but that ludicrous decision was later overturned.

Hughes’ .dvr was originally intended as a single-registrant “closed generic”, but is now expected to operate as a restricted but multi-registrant space.

Could ICANN reject Verisign’s $135m .web bid?

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2016, Domain Registries

ICANN is looking into demands for it to throw out Verisign’s covert $135 million winning bid for the highly prized .web gTLD.

ICANN last week told the judge hearing Donuts’ .web-related lawsuit that it is “currently in the process of investigating certain of the issues raised” by Donuts through its “internal accountability mechanisms”.

Donuts is suing for $22.5 million, claiming ICANN should have forced Nu Dot Co to disclose that its .web bid was being secretly bankrolled by Verisign and alleging that the .com heavyweight used NDC as cover to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

ICANN’s latest filing (pdf), made jointly with Donuts, asked for an extension to October 26 of ICANN’s deadline to file a response to Donuts’ complaint.

It was granted, the second time the deadline has been extended, but the judge warned it was also the final time.

The referenced “internal accountability mechanism” would seem to mean the Cooperative Engagement Process — a low-formality bilateral negotiation — that Donuts and fellow .web bidder Radix initiated against ICANN August 2.

The filing states that the “resolution of certain issues in controversy may be aided by allowing [ICANN] to complete its investigation of [Donuts’] allegations prior to the filing of its responsive pleading.”

In other words, Donuts is either hopeful that ICANN may be able to resolve some of its complaints in the next month, or it’s not particularly impatient about the case progressing.

Meanwhile, fellow .web applicant Afilias has demanded for the second time that ICANN hand over .web to it, as the second-highest bidder, throwing out the NDC/Verisign application.

In a September 9 letter, published last night, Afilias told ICANN to “disqualify and reject” NDC’s application, alleging at least three breaches of ICANN rules.

Afilias says that by refusing to disclose Verisign’s support for its bid, NDC broke the rules and should have its application thrown out.

The company also confirmed on the public record for what I believe is the first time that it was the second-highest bidder in the July 27 auction.

Afilias would pay somewhere between $57.5 million and $71.9 million for the gTLD, depending on what the high bid of the third-placed applicant was.

In its new letter, Afilias says NDC broke the rule from the Applicant Guidebook that does not allow applicants to “resell, assign or transfer any of applicant’s rights or obligations in connection with the application”.

It also says that NDC was obliged by the AGB to notify ICANN of “changes in financial position and changes in ownership or control”, which it did not.

It finally says that Verisign used NDC as a front during the auction, in violation of auction rules.

“In these circumstances, we submit that ICANN should disqualify NDC’s bid and offer to accept the application of Afilias, which placed the second highest exit bid,” Afilias general counsel Scott Hemphill wrote (pdf).

Hemphill told ICANN to defer from signing a Registry Agreement with NDC or Verisign, strongly implying that Afilias intends to invoke ICANN accountability mechanisms (presumably meaning the Request for Reconsideration process and/or Independent Review Process).

While Afilias and Donuts are both taking issue with the secretive nature of Verisign’s acquisition of .web, they’re not necessarily fighting the same corner.

Donuts is looking for $22.5 million because that’s roughly what it would have received if the .web contention set had been resolved via private auction and $135 million had been the winning bid.

But Afilias wants the ICANN auction outcome to stand, albeit with NDC’s top bid rejected. That would mean Donuts, Radix, and the other applicants would still receive nothing.

There’s also the question of other new gTLD applications that have prevailed at auction and been immediately transferred to third-party non-applicants.

The most notable example of this was .blog, which was won by shell company Primer Nivel with secretive backing from WordPress maker Automattic.

Donuts itself regularly wins gTLD auctions and immediately transfers its contracts to Rightside under a pre-existing agreement.

In both of those cases, the reassignment deals predated, but were not disclosed in, the respective applications.

There’s the recipe here for a messy, protracted bun fight over .web, which should come as no surprise to anyone.

Verisign data shows new gTLDs drive almost three quarters of Q2 growth

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2016, Domain Registries

New gTLDs were responsible for the large majority of domain name industry volume growth in the second quarter, but you’d never know it reading Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

The domain universe increased to 334.6 million names at the end of June, according to the latest DNIB, which was published (pdf) last week.

That’s a 8.2 million increase on the 326.4 million it reported in its Q1 DNIB report (pdf).

Verisign reports the increase as 7.9 million, possibly due to new data that emerged after the Q1 report was published.

Whether it was 7.9 million or 8.2 million, most of the growth was due to new gTLDs.

In the DNIB, data on new gTLDs is always presented on page three of the three-page report in such a way to make apples-to-apples comparisons with .com and ccTLDs not straightforward.

While the reports highlight the growth of ccTLDs and Verisign’s own .com and .net registries in absolute and percentage terms, they do not do so for new gTLDs.

(They’ve also been calling ccTLDs “geographic gTLDs” for years and nobody seems to have noticed.)

But comparing Q1 and Q2 DNIB reports shows that new gTLDs contributed 5.9 million of the 8.2/7.9 million quarterly increase, in other words just shy of 72% of the industry’s total volume growth.

That’s the biggest contribution new gTLDs have made to growth in any quarter to date.

The growth can be attributed to .xyz’s penny deals in June, which saw domainers acquire millions of names for essentially nothing.

Meanwhile, .com and .net combined contributed just 700,000 domains to growth and .net actually shrunk by 100,000 names, its first dip since Q1 2015.

The ccTLD market data presented in the DNIBs is probably not entirely reliable. Verisign is still using the December 2014 number for free ccTLD .tk, which I think is about six million names lower than its current level.

Correction: what NTIA said about .com pricing

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The US government has not confirmed that it expects to keep Verisign’s .com registry fee capped at the current level until at least 2024, despite what DI reported on Monday.

At this URL we published an article reporting that the US government had confirmed that it was going to keep .com prices frozen at $7.85 for the next eight years.

That was based on a misreading of a letter from the Department of Commerce to Senator Ted Cruz and others, which merely explained how the price cap could be maintained without expressing a commitment to do so.

The letter actually said very little, and nothing of news value, so I thought it best to simply delete the original piece and replace it with this correction.

I regret the error.

Thanks to those readers who got in touch to point out the mistake.