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Belgium slashes its ICANN funding in “mission creep” protest

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2022, Domain Policy

DNS Belgium has cut its contribution to ICANN’s budget by two thirds, in protest at ICANN’s “mission creep” and its handling of GDPR.

The Belgian ccTLD registry informed ICANN CFO Xavier Calvez that it will only pay $25,000 this fiscal year, compared to the $75,000 it usually pays.

Registry general manager Philip Du Bois wrote (pdf) that “during recent years there has been a shift in focus which is not in the benefit of ccTLD’s”.

ICANN has become a large corporate structure with a tendency to suffer from “mission creep”… At the same time ICANN seems to fail in dealing in an appropriate way with important issues such as GDPR/privacy. It goes beyond our comprehension that ICANN and its officers don’t feel any reluctancy to “advise” European institutions and national governmental bodies to embrace “standards developed by the multi-stakeholder structures on international level” while at the same time it is obvious that ICANN itself has not yet mastered the implementation of important European legislation.

Based in the heart of the EU, DNS Belgium was a strong proponent of Whois privacy many years before the GDPR came into effect in 2018.

Calvez, in his reply (pdf), acknowledges that ccTLD contributions are voluntary, but seems to insinuate (call me a cynic) that the criticisms are hollow and that the registry might simply be trying to reduce its costs during an economic downturn:

We do appreciate any amount of contribution, and also that the ability for any ccTLD to contribute varies over time, including based on economic circumstances. We do understand that the reduction of DNS Belgium’s contribution from US$75,000 to US$25,000 represents a significant and meaningful reduction of costs for DNS Belgium.

DNS Belgium seems to be doing okay, based on its latest annual financial report. It’s not a huge company, but registrations and revenue have been growing at a slow and steady rate for the last several years.

All ccTLD contributions to ICANN are voluntary, but there are suggested donations based on how many domains a registry has under management, ranging from the $225,000 paid by the likes of the UK registry to the $500 paid by the likes of Pitcairn.

DNS Belgium, which manages about 1.7 million names, falls into the third-highest band, with a $75,000 suggested contribution.

ICANN is budgeting for funding of $152 million in its current FY23.

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Diversity takes a hit as NomCom replaces two ICANN directors with newcomers

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN will be left with fewer women and Africans on its board of directors following this year’s Nominating Committee selections, after which apparent community newcomers will take seats.

NomCom last night announced that its three picks for the board, due to take or retake their seats at the Annual General Meeting in Kuala Lumpur next month, are Maarten Botterman, Christopher Chapman and Sajidur Rahman.

Botterman is of course the current chair, and his reappointment was surely never in any doubt. He’ll be entering his third and final term at the AGM.

Less is known about the two newcomers. ICANN has so far provided no biographical information about them beyond the geographic region they represent. Botterman is European and both Chapman and Rahman are from Asia-Pacific.

Both new appointees have very common, google-resistant names, and neither appears to have a track record of vocal ICANN community participation.

Chapman, if I had to guess, would be Chris Chapman, the former long-term independent media regulator from Australia. Sajid Rahman is such a common name I don’t think I could confidently make a call on his identity early doors.

What we do know is that they’re both Asia-Pac, and they’re both replacing one-term African directors.

Leaving the board at the AGM will be NomCom’s 2019 picks Mandla Msimang from South Africa and Ihab Osman from Sudan. This means the sole remaining voting African on the board come October will be South African Alan Barrett.

Msimang leaving and being replaced by a man of course changes the gender mix. After the AGM, there will be six women on the 20-seat board, five out of the 16 voting seats.

Note that I’m not analyzing the picks by some subjective “woke” criteria — ICANN has strict rules about geographic representation in its bylaws and every year its board of directors encourages NomCom to consider the gender mix when making its selections.

The bylaws state that each of the five geographic regions must have at least one seat on the board, and that no one region can have more than five directors.

That said, ICANN doesn’t make it easy to figure out which directors hail from which regions. There’s no published breakdown that I’m aware of and many directors have multiple citizenships and/or are long-term residents of nations outside their birth region.

Two other directors have their current terms ending next month — GNSO appointee Becky Burr (North America), who has been reappointed for a third term, and Christian Kaufmann (Europe) who is replacing Akinori Maemura (Asia-Pac) as an ASO appointee.

NomCom broke down the gender and geographic mix of applicants for all the open board and non-board positions here.

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RDNH loser files second appeal

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2022, Domain Policy

A big drug company has appealed to ICANN for a second time over a Reverse Domain Name Hijacking ruling against it, claiming ICANN should be responsible for the decisions of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

India-based Zydus Lifesciences, which among other things makes Covid-19 vaccines, lost a UDRP complaint against the owner of zydus.com in June. To add insult to injury, WIPO made a RDNH finding against it.

Rather that go to court, Zydus filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN in July, but this was summarily dismissed because the Reconsideration mechanism only applies to the actions or inactions of the ICANN board or staff.

Now Zydus has filed a second RfR, in which its lawyers claim ICANN is responsible for WIPO’s UDRP decisions and failure to address the first RfR amounts to board inaction. The latest claim states:

when a dispute resolution service provider is accredited by ICANN to conduct mandatory administrative policy, as prescribed by the UDRP adopted by ICANN, such service providers are extension of ICANN itself

Zydus claims the WIPO panel erred by relying on what it claims were false and misleading statements by the zydus.com registrant. It wants the decision reversed and the three panelists forever barred.

I doubt the RfR will get anywhere. ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee is not about to make itself the de facto court of appeals for every UDRP party who thinks they got stiffed.

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Group crowdfunding crypto to apply to ICANN for blockchain gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2022, Domain Registries

Do we have our first confirmed blockchain-themed new gTLD application? Looks like it.

A group of pseudonymous individuals have announced plans to apply to ICANN for .dao in the next round, and are currently crowdfunding the project by asking for donations in the Ethereum cryptocurrency.

Going by the name DomainDAO, they say they’ve raised 230 ETH so far, which appears to be worth over $430,000 at today’s rates, already probably enough for a bare-bones new gTLD application.

They want to apply for .dao, an acronym for “decentralized autonomous organization”, a type of entity where token-owning participants set the direction of the DAO via rules laid down in software and votes encoded into a blockchain.

DomainDAO’s web site takes a few pops at the likes of Verisign and Identity Digital owner Ethos Capital for alleged unethical practices and says the goal is for .dao to one day “supersede” .com.

The concept differs from other blockchain-based TLD projects, such as Unstoppable Domains, in that it’s not alt-root. The plan is to apply to ICANN to get into the authoritative, consensus DNS root, so that .dao domains can be used by all.

Unstoppable already runs .dao in its own alt-root, selling domains for $20, and has recently proven litigious when it smells a collision from a competing project.

But the main roadblock to the root may well be ICANN itself.

While the rules governing the next round of gTLD applications are not yet set in stone, it strikes me as incredibly unlikely that ICANN will entertain a bid from an applicant that is not a recognized legal entity with a named board of directors that can be subjected to background screening.

DomainDAO is itself a DAO, and the DAO concept is reportedly prone to corruption and hacking, which could make ICANN nervous.

In addition, people funding DomainDAO today are offered crypto tokens that can be redeemed for second-level domains if the TLD eventually goes live — it’s essentially already selling pre-registrations — which could interfere with rights protection mechanisms, depending on implementation.

But DomainDAO claims to have an industry Greybeard on the payroll, a senior advisor going by the handle “Speech-less”, an “Executive with 20+ years experience in domain and ICANN”.

If that’s you, we probably already know each other. Why not get in touch to tell me why this thing is going to work?

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Buyer “phasing out” domain “bought for $2.2 million”

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2022, Domain Sales

The domain name coupons.com, which was acquired for a reported $2.2 million over two decades ago, is being phased out by its purchaser.

The dot-com-boom-era company, which changed its named from Coupons.com to Quotient Technology in 2015, has said in recent earnings calls and regulatory filings that it plans to deemphasize its old brand in favor of newer ones.

The company started out as a print-at-home discount coupons player, but in recent years has moved into digital as paper coupons fell out of fashion in favor of cash-back promotions and mobile apps.

Even in light of the current global inflation crisis, which one would expect would fuel demand for cheaper food and products, the company is struggling as retailers are also feeling the pinch.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this week, Quotient said: “We are phasing out our use of the coupons.com domain, which we will replace with our Shopmium cash-back mobile app.”

The company acquired the domain in 2000.

Namebio reports the price as $2.2 million, which would have made it the third most-expensive domain ever at the time, though this was later disputed by CEO Steven Boal in a 2011 interview with podcaster Michael Cyger. Boal appeared to confirm it was a seven-figure deal, however.

Quotient’s SEC filings have for some years listed a $0.4 million domain on its balance sheet, but it’s not clear whether this is coupons.com or something else.

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ShortDot drops premium fees on millions of domains

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2022, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry ShortDot says it is making 2.4 million “premium” domains available at its standard registry fee.

From September 1, domains across .bond, .cfd, .icu, .cyou and .sbs will no longer have premium renewals.

The company said that “first and last names, city names, dictionary terms, and more” will return to standard prices, but it appears that it’s the mainly lower-tier inventory, where retail prices can be currently as low as $15 a year, being released.

Judging by the list, it appears that the vast majority of domains are four-character LLLL strings and three, four and five-digit numerics (including US zip codes).

Some geographic names representing low-population areas are on the list, while larger, more well-known cities do not appear to be.

A full spreadsheet of the names can be downloaded from Dropbox here.

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Tucows’ domains business stagnates again in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2022, Domain Registrars

Tucows’ domain name business has experienced its third consecutive quarter of stagnating growth.

The company yesterday reported third-quarter total domains revenue of $61 million, compared to $62.3 million a year ago and $61.5 million in the second quarter.

Dave Woroch, CEO of Tucows Domains, described this 2% annual decline as “consistency” on a prerecorded address to analysts.

He pointed to Verisign’s recent comments about a decrease in .com registration volumes as evidence of an industry-wide post-pandemic slowdown, but was somewhat bullish on some new gTLDs.

“At the other end of the industry, we do see more robust growth in many of the new gTLDs that are of higher quality and that have little to no speculation or cyber crime opportunity,” he said.

The domains industry is “generally not showing a lot of growth”, he said, adding that “outsized growth would need to come from new areas”, which could include so-called “web3” efforts.

Woroch noted the recent funding of blockchain alt-root project Unstoppable Domains, but said Tucows is not a fan. Unstoppable has, like similar efforts dating back over 20 years, some “fatal flaws” and “a chicken and egg problem” of adoption, he said.

Domains under management at Tucows decreased to 24.8 million from 25 million sequentially and 25.6 million a year ago.

Tucows’ retail domains revenue was down to $8.5 million from $8.9 million a year ago, while the wholesale business, including value-added services, was down to $52.3 million from $53.4 million.

Including non-domains businesses, Tucows’ Q2 revenue was up 11% to $83.1 million and the net loss was $3.1 million compared with net income of $1.8 million a year ago.

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Malaysia relaxes travel restrictions ahead of ICANN 75

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2022, Domain Policy

Malaysia has made it easier for foreign travelers to enter the country, which should take some of the headaches out of going to ICANN 75 next month.

According to local reports, the Malaysian government web site, and official UK travel advice, those entering Malaysia are no longer required to fill out a “travelers card” on the government’s contact-tracing app, MySejahtera.

It’s not clear whether MySejahtera is still mandatory for entry. The UK says you “may” be required to install it,

On-arrival tests have been scrapped, regardless of vaccination status, the Malaysian government said:

From 1st August 2022, all travellers are allowed to enter Malaysia regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status and do not require a pre-departure or on-arrival COVID-19 test. There are no quarantine orders related to COVID-19 enforced by the Malaysian Government upon arrival.

If you test positive for Covid-19 while in Malaysia, you’re still required by law to quarantine for four days (if you subsequently test negative) to seven days (regardless of the test result) at your own expense.

While the government rules may take some of the red tape out of entering the country, ICANN’s still has rules about entering the meeting venue.

To obtain entry to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, you’ll need to have proof of vaccination under the current version of ICANN’s health guidelines, which were last updated July 20.

Thanks to Richard Wein for the tip.

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GMO to sell Unstoppable’s crypto domains

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2022, Domain Registrars

Japan’s largest domain seller, GMO, is to sell Unstoppable Domains’s blockchain-based addresses under a new brand.

The company, which owns the registrar Onamae, is launching a site called “CryptoName by GMO” at cryptoname.jp, where Unstoppable’s full portfolio of crytocurrency-themed extensions are on offer.

Unstoppable said it’s first traditional domain name registrar to offer the service.

The CryptoName web site contains an extensive FAQ explaining that the names are primarily designed to address crypto wallets rather than web sites, where they won’t resolve for the vast majority of internet users and won’t be indexed by search engines.

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More rules, but cozier ICANN 75 expected

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2022, Domain Policy

There will be more rules to follow at ICANN 75 next month, but attendees might be able to expect a more intimate event, with less stringent seating restrictions.

The gathering, ICANN’s 2022 Annual General Meeting, will be held in Kuala Lumpur from September 17 to 22, the second pandemic-era meeting to have a face-to-face component, but in-person attendees need to register by September 14.

The new rules are largely a result of local laws, according to ICANN.

The first thing to note is that if you don’t have a smart-phone, you’re out of luck. Malaysia requires people entering the country to install a government Covid-control track-and-trace app called MySejahtera.

The law also says you have to wear masking indoors and self-isolate for four to seven days if you test positive. ICANN’s mandatory legal waiver makes the attendee responsible for associated costs.

But at the venue itself, ICANN is relaxing its session rules, saying it may halve the social-distancing requirement in half to a meter, which will allow more people into each room and could reduce the need for waiting lists and overflow rooms.

Many of the sessions at ICANN 74 in June were over-booked.

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