The Chinese government has granted licenses to operate in the country to its first tranche of new gTLDs — .vip, .club and .xyz.
The agreements mean that Chinese registrars will be able to give their Chinese customers the ability to actually use their domains for web sites.
It also means the companies will be obliged to censor domains the government does not like, but only those domains registered via Chinese registrars.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the licenses, given to the Chinese subsidiaries of Minds + Machines, .CLUB Domains and XYZ.com respectively, today.
M+M CEO Toby Hall told DI that it’s “a great moment of support for Chinese registrars”, giving them a “very clear signal about which TLDs they can focus on”.
XYZ.com said in a blog post that some of its Chinese registrars (its biggest channel) are planning on offering discounts to celebrate the approval.
It’s always been possible for Chinese people to register new gTLD domains via Chinese registrars — it’s estimated that 42% of the 27 million new gTLD domains in existence today are Chinese-owned.
However, Chinese citizens need a government license if they want to launch a web site, and the government only issues licenses for domains in approved TLDs.
In addition to .cn and China-based gTLDs, which were the first to be given the nod, Verisign was approved earlier this year for .com.
Hall said that while .vip has been popular with Chinese domainers, the MIIT license means it can start to tap the small business market there too.
Obtaining the license means that the three registries, which are all based in the US or Europe, will have to comply with Chinese regulations when it comes to Chinese customers.
That basically means the Chinese government gets to censor pretty much anything it doesn’t like, up to and including sites that “spread rumors”.
Hall said that there’s no chance of this censorship bleeding out to affect non-Chinese customers.
M+M, along with XYZ and .CLUB, are using Chinese registry gateway ZDNS to act as a proxy between their own back-ends (Nominet for .vip, Neustar for .club and CentralNic for .xyz) and Chinese registrars.
“All of our Chinese web sites go through ZDNS, so only web sites going through ZDNS would be affected,” Hall said, referring to the censorship rules.
Hall added that he was “not aware” of there being a blocklist of politically sensitive strings that Chinese customers are not allowed to register.
NameCheap may have sold over a million .xyz domains, but apparently it will sell no more than that.
The registrar confirmed to DI this evening that it is no longer taking .xyz registrations. It declined to explain why.
It has also stopped selling .college and .rent domains — two other gTLDs owned by XYZ.com. Other new gTLDs are not affected.
It’s reportedly not accepting inbound transfers either, though existing domains can be renewed.
The switch-off happened at the end of last month, a NameCheap representative said.
That’s just one month after the registrar celebrated its one millionth .xyz registration, which XYZ.com commemorated with a blog post bigging up NameCheap’s user-customers.
The move is peculiar indeed. NameCheap is the third highest-volume .xyz registrar, behind West.cn and Uniregistry, responsible for about 15% of .xyz’s domains under management.
It’s also NameCheap’s biggest direct-selling gTLD by a considerable margin.
NameCheap is well-known as primarily an eNom reseller — it accounts for 28% of eNom’s domains under management and 18% of its revenue, largely from .com sales.
But with new gTLDs it has started selling domains on its own IANA ticker, meaning a direct connection to the registry and more gross profit for itself.
According to June’s registry reports, the million .xyz names accounted for roughly two thirds of NameCheap’s total DUM (not counting names sold via eNom).
The closet rival in its portfolio is .online, which provided the registrar with about 81,000 DUM.
The registrar added about 350,000 .xyz domains in June, a month in which it briefly offered them at $0.02 each.
At that time, the company reported technical issues that led to a 12-24 hour backlog of registrations to process, though its blog post announcing the problem appears to have since been deleted.
NameCheap has declined to comment on the reason for the surprise move, and XYZ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The fact that all of XYZ.com’s TLDs have been cut off suggests some kind of dispute between the two companies, but the fact that renewals can still be processed would suggest that NameCheap has not lost its .xyz accreditation.
More info if I get it…
XYZ.com has hired its first Beijing-based employee, as part of its ongoing plan to formally enter the Chinese market.
The company said yesterday that it has appointed Mason Zhang, until recently chief marketing office at .top gTLD registry Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology Co, as its new director of business development for China.
It’s part of XYZ’s seemingly interminable entry to the Chinese market, which is over a year old.
While the majority of .xyz’s registrations have been into China, the registry (along with pretty much every other Western registry) still does not have the necessary government permissions so that its customers can start using their names.
The company said in a blog post that it expects to get its Chinese accreditation “very soon”.
Zhang’s former employer, .top, is second only to .xyz in terms of new gTLD registration volume, also due to Chinese sales. It has about 3.7 million names in its zone file, compared to .xyz’s 6.1 million.
Some of Verisign’s chickens have evidently come home to roost.
A number of companies that the registry giant has pissed off over the last couple of years have slammed the proposed renewal of its .com contract with ICANN.
Rivals including XYZ.com (sued over its .xyz advertising) and Donuts (out-maneuvered on .web) are among those to have filed comments opposing the proposed new Registry Agreement.
They’re joined by business and intellectual property interests, concerned that Verisign is being allowed to carry on without implementing any of the IP-related obligations of other gTLDs, and a dozens of domainers, spurred into action by a newsletter.
Even a child protection advocacy group has weighed in, accusing Verisign of not doing enough to prevent child abuse material being distributed.
ICANN announced last month that it plans to renew the .com contract, which is not due to expire for another two years, until 2024, to bring its term in line with Verisign’s contracts related to root zone management.
There are barely any changes in the proposed new RA — no new rights protection mechanisms, no changes to how pricing is governed, and no new anti-abuse provisions.
The ensuing public comment period, which closed on Friday, has attracted slightly more comments than your typical ICANN comment period.
That’s largely due to outrage from readers of the Domaining.com newsletter, who were urged to send comments in an article headlined “BREAKING: Verisign doubles .COM price overnight!”
That headline, for avoidance of doubt, is not accurate. I think the author was trying to confer the idea that the headline could, in his opinion, be accurate in future.
Still, it prompted a few dozen domainers to submit brief comments demanding “No .com price increases!!!”
The existing RA, which would be renewed, says this about price:
The Maximum Price for Registry Services subject to this Section 7.3 shall be as follows:
(i) from the Effective Date through 30 November 2018, US $7.85;
(ii) Registry Operator shall be entitled to increase the Maximum Price during the term of the Agreement due to the imposition of any new Consensus Policy or documented extraordinary expense resulting from an attack or threat of attack on the Security or Stability of the DNS, not to exceed the smaller of the preceding year’s Maximum Price or the highest price charged during the preceding year, multiplied by 1.07.
The proposed amendment (pdf) that would extend the contract through 2024 does not directly address price.
It does, however, contain this paragraph:
Future Amendments. The parties shall cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the terms of the Agreement (a) by the second anniversary of the Effective Date, to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD, and (b) as may be necessary for consistency with changes to, or the termination or expiration of, the Cooperative Agreement between Registry Operator and the Department of Commerce.
The Cooperative Agreement is the second contract in the three-way relationship between Verisign, ICANN and the US Department of Commerce that allows Verisign to run not only .com but also the DNS root zone.
It’s important because Commerce exercised its powers under the agreement in 2012 to freeze .com prices at $7.85 a year until November 2018, unless Verisign can show it no longer has “market power”, a legal term that plays into monopoly laws.
So what the proposed .com amendments mean is that, if the Cooperative Agreement changes in 2018, ICANN and Verisign are obligated to discuss amending the .com contract at that time to take account of the new terms.
If, for example, Commerce extends the price freeze, Verisign and ICANN are pretty much duty bound to write that extension into the RA too.
There’s no credible danger of prices going up before 2018, in other words, and whether they go up after that will be primarily a matter for the US administration.
The US could decide that Verisign no longer has market power then and drop the price freeze, but would be an indication of a policy change rather than a reflection of reality.
The Internet Commerce Association, which represents high-volume domainers, does not appear particularly concerned about prices going up any time soon.
It said in its comments to ICANN that it believes the new RA “will have no effect whatsoever upon the current .Com wholesale price freeze of $7.85 imposed on Verisign”.
XYZ.com, in its comments, attacked not potential future price increases, but the current price of $7.85, which it characterized as extortionate.
If .com were put out to competitive tender, XYZ would be prepared to reduce the price to $1 per name per year, CEO Daniel Negari wrote, saving .com owners over $850 million a year — more than the GDP of Rwanda.
ICANN should not passively go along with Verisign’s selfish goal of extending its unfair monopoly over the internet’s most popular top-level domain name.
Others in the industry chose to express that the proposed contract does not even attempt to normalize the rules governing .com with the rules almost all other gTLDs must abide by.
Donuts, in its comment, said that the more laissez-faire .com regime actually harms competition, writing:
It is well known that new gTLDs and now many other legacy gTLDs are heavily vested with abuse protections that .COM is not. Thus, smaller, less resource-rich competitors must manage gTLDs laden (appropriately) with additional responsibilities, while Verisign is able to operate its domains unburdened from these safeguards. This incongruence is a precise demonstration of disparate treatment, and one that actually hinders effective competition and ultimately harms consumers.
It points to numerous statistics showing that .com is by far the most-abused TLD in terms of spam, phishing, malware and cybersquatting.
The Business Constituency and Intellectual Property Constituency had similar views about standardizing rules on abuse and such. The IPC comment says:
The continued prevalence of abusive registrations in the world’s largest TLD registry is an ongoing challenge. The terms of the .com registry agreement should reflect that reality, by incorporating the most up-to-date features that will aid in the detection, prevention and remediation of abuses.
The European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online submitted a comment with a more narrow focus — child abuse material and pornography in general.
Enasco said that 41% of sites containing child abuse material use .com domains and that Verisign should at least have the same regulatory regime as 2012-round gTLDs. It added:
Verisign’s egregious disinterest in or indolence towards tackling these problems hitherto hardly warrants them being rewarded by being allowed to continue the same lamentable
I couldn’t find any comments that were in unqualified support of the .com contract renewal, but the lack of any comments from large sections of the ICANN community may indicate widespread indifference.
The full collection of comments can be found here.
XYZ.com became the first new gTLD operator to top five million domains in a single TLD last night, when .xyz added almost 1.5 million names.
According to our parse of today’s zone file, .xyz has 5,096,589 names, up 1,451,763 on yesterday’s 3,644,826.
On Monday, the number was just under 2.8 million.
The massive spike came after what was supposed to be the final day of a three-day discounting blitz, as registrars sold the names for $0.02, $0.01 or even nothing.
Uniregistry, which sold for a penny, seems to have claimed the lion’s share of the regs.
The company supplied DI with data showing it had processed over 1.16 million registrations on June 2, about 90% of which CEO Frank Schilling said were .xyz sales.
At its peak, Uniregistry created 95,793 new domains in an hour, this data shows.
Judging by the numbers published on its home page, the registrar has pretty much doubled its domains under management overnight.
The rapid growth of .xyz is very probably not over.
Some registrars said they will carry on with the penny giveaways for an extra day.
At least one popular registrar, NameCheap, told irritated customers that the popularity of its $0.02 offer meant it had a backlog of registration requests that would take 12 to 24 hours to process. Those may not have showed up in the zone file yet.
In addition, .xyz prices are expected to be dirt cheap — just $0.18 at Uniregistry, for example — for the rest of the month, at least at the 50-odd registrars XYZ says are participating in its promotion.