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InternetNZ says sorry for “institutional racism”

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2022, Domain Registries

New Zealand ccTLD registry InternetNZ has apologized for its “institutional racism” following a probe instigated by its reaction to a YouTube video last year that incited violence against Māori citizens.

“We acknowledge that InternetNZ has institutional racism built into our culture and structures. These systems, and the way people have acted within them, have caused harm to Te Ao Māori,” the company said in a statement last week.

“We unreservedly apologise for the harm to Te Ao Māori [the Māori world],” it added. “We know that from here, it is our actions that will right these wrongs.”

The apology follows the publication of a report into current and historical structural racism at the company by Māori language advocate Hana O’Regan, commissioned by the InternetNZ Council last year.

The review was ordered after two council members, both Māori women, resigned in protest at InternetNZ’s inaction when a masked individual reportedly uploaded a video to YouTube encouraging the massacre of Māori people.

It seems many believed InternetNZ should have publicly condemned the video, which stayed online for more than a day, as well as used its political clout to encourage YouTube to delete it.

The company apologized a few days later, saying it had not wanted to inadvertently draw attention to the video, perhaps inflaming matters, but said that was with hindsight the wrong call.

O’Regan’s report is more wide-ranging than the 2021 incident, however, delving back into InternetNZ’s roots in the mid-1990s and finding long-term resistance to the asks of the Māori people.

Māori had to struggle to get the second-level domain maori.nz created, while geek.nz sailed through approval, the report says. There was also resistance to enabling internationalized domain names, which would allow the macro diacritic used in the Māori language, it says.

The report also criticized InternetNZ’s decision-making structure as failing to embrace Māori cultural practices, and its membership for failing to be sufficiently diverse.

The company says it has in the last year or so appointed a C-level Māori cultural advisor and created a committee to advise on Māori matters. It is also working on a “comprehensive action plan” it intends to publish early next year.

The 35-page report can be found here (pdf). It’s written for a domestic audience, so if you’re not Kiwi, you’ll probably need Google Translate to follow it. And if you’re an American conservative, it’ll probably pop all your aneurysms at once.

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Melbourne IT to relaunch, return to roots, after $3.4 million acquisition

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2022, Domain Registrars

Australian registrar Webcentral.au is to revive its Melbourne IT brand with a renewed focus on the corporate domains market, following the AUD 5 million ($3.4 million) acquisition of a smaller rival.

The company said today it’s buying registrar New Domain Services and bringing its CEO, Jonathan Horne, on board as the new boss of Melbourne IT, which divested its corporate domains arm to CSCGlobal in 2013.

Webcentral now says it plans to “relaunch the Melbourne IT brand and business and pursue growth opportunities in the corporate domains services sector”, returning the company to its roots.

New Domain has revenue of AUD 2 million and EBITDA of AUD 1.2 million, with 25,000 customers, the company said.

Melbourne IT was among the first handful of registrars to be accredited by ICANN when it broke up Network Solutions’ monopoly in the late 1990s.

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Registrars CAN charge for Whois, ICANN grudgingly admits

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2022, Domain Registrars

ICANN is powerless to prevent registrars from charging for access to non-public Whois data, the Org has reluctantly admitted.

In a recent advisory, ICANN said it is “concerned” that registrars including Tucows have been charging fees to process requests for data that would otherwise be redacted in the free public Whois.

But it said there’s nothing in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, specifically the Temporary Specification governing Whois in the post-GDPR world, that bans such services:

While the RAA explicitly requires access to public registration data directory services to be provided free of charge, the Temporary Specification does not specifically address the issue of whether or not a registrar may charge a fee for considering requests for access to redacted registration data.

So basic Whois results, with all the juicy info redacted, has to be free, but registrars can bill organizations who ask for the veil to be lifted. ICANN wrote:

ICANN org is concerned that registrars’ imposition of fees for consideration of requests for access to nonpublic gTLD registration data may pose an access barrier. Access to registration data serves the public interest and contributes to the security and stability of the Internet

The advisory calls out Tucows’ Tiered Access Compliance and Operations system, TACO, as the primary example of a registrar charging for data, but notes that others are too.

Not long after the advisory was published, Tucows posted an article in which it explained that the fees are necessary to cover the cost of the “thousands” of automated requests it has received in the last four years.

Charging fees for compliance with other forms of legal process is not uncommon in the industry, and the vast majority of requests for registration data (approximately 90%) continue to come from commercial litigation interests and relate to suspected intellectual property infringement.

Facebook, now Meta, was at first, and may still well be, a frequent bulk filer.

Tucows said that it “frequently” waives its fees upon request for “single-use requestors and private parties”.

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New new gTLD registry in town as Rostam buys UNR

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2022, Domain Registries

UNR, the former Uniregistry, has emerged under new ownership, new leadership, and with another new name, apparently finalizing Frank Schilling’s piecemeal exit from the domain name industry.

The nine gTLD contracts remaining with UNR following its fire-sale auction 18 months ago are now owned by Internet Naming Company, which like UNR is based in Grand Cayman.

The new company, which appears to be a continuation of UNR yet promising a “clean slate”, is owned and run by Shayan Rostam, who was UNR’s chief growth officer and previously worked for XYZ.com and Intercap.

INC’s portfolio comprises .click, .country, .help, .forum, .hiv, .love, .property, .sexy, and the unlaunched .trust, which together have over 350,000 registered domains.

Registry-recommended retail pricing varies wildly between TLDs, from the .com-competitive, such as .click at $9.99, to the wallet-busting, such as .sexy at $2,999 and .forum at $1,199.

INC is also offering consulting, auction and management services for other TLDs, including dot-brands.

The emergence of INC means we now know where all 23 of the gTLDs UNR auctioned off last year ended up. XYZ.com wound up with 10, with GoDaddy, Top Level Design, Nova Registry and Dot Hip Hop all grabbing one or two each.

UNR sold its registrar business to GoDaddy and its registry back-end business to Tucows (which is supporting INC’s portfolio) last year, giving INC the ability to talk about going “back to basics”, unencumbered by any conflicts of interest.

The new company is using inaming.co for its web site. The individual TLDs’ sites still use UNR landing pages.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this…

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2022, Domain Services

The collective noun for wildebeest is “an implausibility”.

In the incredibly unlikely event that you’re ever confronted by a large group of these majestic bovine quadrupeds, that’s how you should describe what you see.

An implausibility of wildebeest.

I tell you this not because it’s relevant to anything else that appears in this article, but because a series of unfortunate and unavoidable circumstances have kept me offline for the last few weeks, and you may find this round-up piece tells you lots of things you already know.

If that’s the case for you, I can only apologize, with the caveat that you probably didn’t know about the wildebeest thing, so at least this post has provided some value.

Let’s start with ICANN, shall we?

My ICANN announcements feed contains 20 unread articles this morning, and as far as I can tell from a cursory glance over the headlines, the Org has done almost nothing of consequence recently.

It’s mostly outreach-this, engagement-that, review-the-other. If official announcements were any guide, ICANN would look like an entity far more concerned with promoting and promulgating its own increasingly debatable legitimacy, rather than doing the stuff it was originally set up to do.

Like new gTLDs, for example…

While ICANN continues to fart around with its working groups and consultations and Dantean layers of bureaucracy, the blockchain/crypto/web3 crowd are continuing to bolster their efforts to eat the Org’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Most notably, blockchain-based alt-root naming services including Unstoppable have launched the Web3 Domain Alliance, which, even if it misses its goals, promises to make the next new gTLD round an even bigger litigation clusterfunge than the last.

The alliance intends to among other things “advocate for the policy position that NFT domain registry owner-operators create trademark rights in their web3 TLDs through first commercial use with market penetration.”

In other words, if some well-financed crypto bro creates .example on some obscure blockchain root and gets a little bit of traction, ICANN shouldn’t be allowed to create .example on the authoritative consensus root.

This has the potential to make Jarndyce and Jarndyce look like a parking ticket hearing and I take some comfort from the fact that I’ll most likely be long dead before the lawsuits from the next new gTLD round have all played out.

The Web3 Domain Alliance is promising imminent pledges of support from “web2” companies, and it will be interesting to see if any company in the conventional domain name industry is ready to break ranks with ICANN and sign up.

In actual gTLDs…

Another thing that will likely post-date my death is the launch of the last gTLD from the 2012 application round. Many still lie dormant, but they do still continue to trickle out of the gates.

While I’ve been offline, we’ve witnessed the general availability launch of Google’s .boo and .rsvp — the former criminally missing the increasingly lengthy and bewildering Halloween season and the latter probably a little late for the Christmas party season — while non-profit .kids went GA a couple of days ago.

In the world of ccTLDs…

GoDaddy is formally relaunching .tv, the rights to operate it won in a bidding process earlier this year after incumbent registry Verisign declined to compete.

It’s talking about a “a complete rebrand and marketing makeover”, with a new, very colorful, destination site at TurnOn.tv.

Many years ago, a senior Verisign exec described .tv to me as “better than .com”, and in a world where any shouty teenage pillock can essentially launch their own TV show for the price of an iPhone and broadband connection, that’s probably never been truer.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian ccTLD registry Hostmaster isn’t going to let the little matter of an ongoing Russian invasion interfere with its 30th birthday celebrations and the 12th annual UADOM conference.

It’s being held remotely for obvious reasons. It starts tomorrow, runs for two days, and more details can be found here and here.

In other conference news, NamesCon has also announced dates for its 2023 NamesCon Global conference. According to Domain Name Journal, it will return to Austin, Texas, from May 31 to June 3 next year.

DomainPulse, the conference serving the Germanophone region of Europe (albeit in English), has set its 2023 event for February 6 and 7 in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Scoop of the month…

By far the most interesting article I’ve read from the last month came from NameBio’s Michael Sumner, a reverse-exposé of the successful .xyz domain investor who goes by the name “Swetha”.

This area of the industry is not something I spend a lot of time tracking, but I’ll admit whenever I’ve read about this mononymed India-based domainer’s extensive, expensive .xyz sales, I’ve had a degree of skepticism.

It turns out that skepticism was shared by some fellow industry dinosaurs, so Sumner did the legwork, amazingly and ballsily obtaining Swetha’s Afternic login credentials (with her consent) and hand-verifying years of sales data.

He concluded that the sales she’s been reporting on Twitter are legit, and that she’s a pretty damn good domainer, but understandably could not fully disprove the hypothesis that some of her buyers are .xyz registry shills.

Elliot Silver later got a comment from the registry in which it denied any kind of collusion and implied skepticism was the result of sexism and/or racism, rather than the sketchiness sometimes displayed by anonymous Twitter accounts and the registry itself.

Earnings, M&A, IPOs…

  • The otherwise-consolidating industry is getting its first IPO in some time, with United-Internet pitching a public markets spin-off of its IONOS group, which includes brands such as Sedo and InternetX, to potential investors. DNW pulled out some of the more interesting facts from its presentation.
  • Industry consolidator CentralNic reported a strong Q3, though its growth is no longer dependent on its domain name business.
  • Tucows reported modest growth (pdf) for Q3, hindered by flat-to-down results in its domain name business.
  • GoDaddy, which no longer breaks out numbers for its domains business, reported a billion-dollar quarter.
  • Smaller, faster-growing registrar NameSilo reported turning a loss into a profit in the quarter.
  • In M&A, Namespace, owner of EuroDNS, announced it has acquired fellow German registrar Moving Internet.

And finally…

The DNS turned 35. So that’s nice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 600 unread emails to deal with…

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Verisign growth slows with post-Covid blues

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign sold fewer .com and .net domains than it did a year ago in the third quarter and has once again slashed its outlook for the year.

It had 174.2 million names across the two TLDs at the end of September, an increase of 1.2% over the year but down by around 100,000 names (rounded) on the quarter.

There were 9.9 million new domains sold. That compares to 10.1 million in the second quarter and 10.7 million in Q3 last year.

It now expects its total domains under management to increase by between 0.25% and 1% for the full year. That compares to the between 0.5% and 1.5% it predicted at the end of Q2, the 1.75% and 3.5% predicted in April, and the between 2.5% and 4.5% it predicted in February.

That equates to 2022 revenue of $1.418 billion to $1.426 billion, CFO George Kilguss told analysts. Verisign’s always jaw-dropping operating margin is expected to be between 65.75% and 66.25%.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts the slower growth can the attributed to the general macroeconomic malaise, Verisign coming off the lockdown bump experienced in 2020 and 2021, and the perennial issue of Chinese lumpiness.

Renewal rates for Q3 are expected to be 73.8%, the same as Q2 but down from 75% a year-ago.

But the company continues to make money hand over fist. Revenue was up 6.8% compared to Q3 last year at $357 million and net income was up to $169 million compared to $157 million a year ago.

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CentralNic gobbles up another registrar

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2022, Domain Registrars

CentralNic said it is to acquire California-based corporate domain registrar Intellectual Property Management Company for $7.6 million.

The company said the all-cash deal represents about 2.8x IPMC’s 2021 revenue and about seven times EBITDA.

CentralNic already plays in the corporate domain management space — it picked up BrandShelter when it merged with Key-Systems a few years ago.

But it’s the first acquisition in the domain space in a while. CentralNic is highly acquisitive, but recent buys have been mainly in the advertising and domain monetization space, which is driving huge growth.

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Blind auditions underway for ICANN’s supreme court

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2022, Domain Policy

An ICANN volunteer committee says it is close to picking a slate of judges for what amounts to ICANN’s much-delayed “supreme court”, but it’s doing so without knowing the identities of the candidates.

The Independent Review Process Community Representatives Group said in a blog post that it expects to wrap up its work — picking at least seven members of an IRP Standing Panel — by the end of the year, though it views the deadline as “challenging”.

The group said that it’s currently reviewing applications for the posts, but with the identities of the candidates redacted, and expects to start interviewing shortly. The members wrote:

While we only see information about various applicants’ qualifications, gender and ICANN regional residency, we do not at this point know the identity of the candidates. These are data points to assist our winnowing process and our endeavor to achieve cultural, linguistic, gender and legal diversity. Diversity by geographic region is indicated in ICANN’s Bylaws.

The skill-set mandated for panelists by ICANN’s bylaws is pretty rarefied — requiring knowledge of international law, arbitration, the DNS and ICANN itself — so it seems likely that LinkedIn and Google could be useful to identity candidates, if CRG members were so inclined.

The CRG said it has a wealth of qualified candidates “a sizeable group of individuals with impressive and suitable backgrounds”, making the selection process “difficult”.

The Standing Panel is envisaged as a kind of supreme court for ICANN. Whenever somebody challenges an ICANN decision with an Independent Review Process complaint, three members of the panel would be selected to hear the case.

The idea is that IRP should become more consistent, objective and speedy, retaining more institutional knowledge, with a stable set of rotating panelists. The current system has ICANN and complainants select their panelist.

ICANN’s bylaws have been calling for the creation of a Standing Panel since April 2013, but ICANN is ICANN and the panel has been delayed by years of foot-dragging and red tape. The CRG was only created to audition candidates in February 2022.

Many IRP cases over the last near-decade have been complicated and delayed by the absence of the panel, even resulting in a lawsuit.

This is great for lawyers who bill by the hour, not so great for complainants and ICANN’s credibility as an accountable organization.

The CRG has seven members drawn from the GNSO, ALAC, ccNSO and GAC, including government representatives of Iran and Nigeria. It’s chaired by Verisign’s David McAuley.

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Right-wing YouTube bought rumble.com from founder for $477,077

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2022, Domain Sales

Right-wing video-sharing platform Rumble paid its founder the equivalent of $477,077 for the domain name rumble.com last year, it has emerged.

The company went public on Nasdaq last month, reversing into a shell company, and in an SEC filing last week disclosed the deal:

On May 11, 2021, Rumble purchased from Jokaroo Entertainment Inc. (“Jokaroo”) the domain license for the name “rumble.com” for a purchase price of CAD$603,895 (approximately $477,077), as permitted by the terms of, and in accordance with, the License Agreement dated October 1, 2013 between Rumble and Jokaroo. Mr. Pavlovski is the controlling owner of Jokaroo. In connection with the purchase, the license for the domain name under the License Agreement automatically terminated in accordance with its terms.

It’s not your standard sort of domain sale, but it appears to be an all-cash, domain-only deal. Pavlovski is Chris Pavlovski, the company’s founder and CEO.

The filing makes reference to other six-figure domains purchased from related parties, without specifying the domains.

Rumble is a YouTube clone founded to provide a platform for voices that have either been censored, or fear being censored, by “Big Tech”, due to their views. It’s largely frequented by right-wing Americans.

The company also owns Locals.com, a crowd-funding service mimicking Patreon and set up for largely the same political reasons and audience. It also provides hosting services to Donald Trump’s Truth Social.

Namebio shows that rumble.com previously sold for $31,283 on SnapNames in 2007.

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You can’t appeal a UDRP appeal, ICANN Ombudsman says

Kevin Murphy, October 24, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN’s independent Ombudsman has called an Indian vaccine maker’s second Request for Reconsideration over a failed UDRP case a “misuse” of the Org’s appeals process.

Zydus Lifesciences lost its UDRP over the domain zydus.com earlier this year, with a finding of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking, then used the RfR process to try to get ICANN’s board of directors to overturn the WIPO decision.

The Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee dismissed the complaint because Reconsideration is designed for challenging ICANN’s actions and WIPO is not ICANN.

Zydus immediately filed a second RfR, calling WIPO “an extension of ICANN itself” and that BAMC’s inaction on the first RfR meant the case was now subject to the board’s jurisdiction.

In a rare intervention, Ombudsman Herb Waye poo-poos that notion, writing: “Decisions by the WIPO Panel in a domain name dispute are not sufficient basis for an RfR (hence the BAMC had no ‘jurisdiction’ other than the jurisdiction necessary to dismiss the Request).”

I feel that [the second RfR] has placed the BAMC in the awkward position of policing itself; hence perhaps, its hesitancy to summarily dismiss a Request concerning its own actions. A clear attempt by the requestor to appeal the decision in [the first RfR]. An unfortunate situation that, to me, amounts to misuse of this accountability mechanism.

He concluded that for the BAMC to consider the complaint would be a “waste of resources” and that it should be dismissed.

Zydus will still be able to appeal the UDRP in court, but that of course will be much more expensive.

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