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Monte Cahn revealed as third new gTLD buyer

Kevin Murphy, January 11, 2022, Domain Registries

Domain investor Monte Cahn has revealed himself as the third partner in the controversial acquisition of new gTLD .hiphop from UNR.

Cahn Enterprises named itself alongside already-reported consultant Jeff Neuman of JJN Solutions and publicly traded startup Digital Asset Monetary Network (DigitalAMN) as a partner in newly formed registry vehicle Dot Hip Hop LLC.

DHH bought .hiphop privately from Frank Schilling’s UNR last April at around the same time as UNR auctioned off the other 22 gTLDs in its portfolio, exiting the registry business.

Cahn founded the registrar Moniker, aftermarket pioneer SnapNames and gTLD auction coordinator RightOfTheDot.

RightOfTheDot’s Scott Pruitt has also joined DHH to lead marketing, Cahn’s press release revealed.

The new registry plans to lower the price of .hiphip domains, which currently retail for over $150 a year, as part of an effort to get broader adoption in the hip-hop cultural community.

The company is strongly pushing digital empowerment and “financial literacy” in an “underserved” community as a public benefit of its plans for the TLD.

The problem DHH continues to face is ICANN’s ongoing blocking of the transfer of .hiphop, and the other 22 UNR TLD contracts, due to confusion about the ownership status of matching TLDs on the Ethereum Name Service, a blockchain-based alt-root.

ICANN is fearful of alternative DNS roots which, if they ever gain broad appeal, in theory could break internet interoperability as well as eroding ICANN’s own uniquely powerful and uniquely lucrative authority over the DNS.

DHH’s Neuman recently accused ICANN of foot-dragging and retaliation over the delayed transfers, which is costing the DHH partners money while their legal status is in limbo and they are unable to sell any names.

ICANN’s top brass subsequently denied these accusations, saying the Org is merely following its established (and rather convoluted) appeals procedures.

While these procedures could delay approval of .hiphop’s transfer for another few months, forcing DHH to burn more capital, ICANN said it is “considering the potential impact on the requestor as we have been requested to do”, so it may cut DHH some slack.

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“National security” cited as registry says you have to ask its CEO if you want to register more than TWO domains

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2022, Domain Registries

India, a country with some 2.2 million ccTLD domains, has implemented perhaps the strangest and most Draconian restrictions on bulk registration of modern times.

The local registry, NIXI, informed its registrars all over the world in late December that they will have to seek formal written permission directly from the CEO if a customer wishes to register more than two .in domains.

Registrars breaking the rules face losing their accreditation, NIXI said.

A terse notice (pdf) published on the registry’s web site, signed by CEO Anil Kumar Jain, reads:

It is decided that a written approval of CEO, NIXI is required if an individual Registrant submit a request for registering more than two domains.

In case a registered accredited company try to book domains more than 100 than also a written approval of CEO, NIXI is required.

In case any Registrar is booking domains violating the above norms NIXI has right to disallow/disconnect the domains booking under that category. A process may be initiated for de-accreditation of such Registrar.

Approval will be given within 24 hours of a request, regardless of weekends or holidays, the notice reads.

Asked for clarification, Jain told DI in an email that the “new procedure is drawn after reviewing national security concerns” and that “NIXI registry is not stopping any domain registration.”

“An individual can book up to 2 domains and a company can book up to 100 domains without permissions,” he wrote. “Permission sought is given within 24 hrs.”

The new rule has registrars scratching their heads, with one describing it as “crazy”, “very vague” and very difficult to enforce.

NIXI uses GoDaddy Registry as its back-end, but GoDaddy does not appear to be playing a role in the implementation of the new policy. A spokesperson said in a statement:

At this time, the responsibilities are on the registrars and it’s a discussion between NIXI and them. As the back-end provider, we work closely with .in on any changes they would like to make at the registry level.

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Whois reform to take four years, cost up to $107 million A YEAR, and may still be pointless

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN’s proposed post-GDPR Whois system could cost over $100 million a year to run and take up to four years to build, but the Org still has no idea whether anyone will use it.

That appears to be the emerging conclusion of ICANN’s very first Operational Design Phase, which sought to translate community recommendations for a Standardized System for Access and Disclosure (SSAD) into a practical implementation plan.

SSAD is supposed to make it easier for people like trademark owners and law enforcement to request personal information from Whois records that is currently redacted due to privacy laws such as GDPR.

The ODP, which was originally meant to conclude in September but will now formally wrap up in February, has decided so far that SSAD will take “three to four years” to design and build, costing between $20 million and $27 million.

It’s calculated the annual running costs at between $14 million and $107 million, an eye-wateringly imprecise estimate arrived at because ICANN has pretty much no idea how many people will want to use SSAD, how much they’d be prepared to pay, and how many Whois requests they will likely make.

ICANN had previously guesstimated startup costs of $9 million and ongoing annual costs around the same level.

The new cost estimates are based on the number of users being anywhere between 25,000 and three million, with the number of annual queries coming in at between 100,000 and 12 million.

And ICANN admits that the actual demand “may be lower” than even the low-end estimate.

“We haven’t been able to figure out how big the demand is,” ICANN CEO Göran Marby told the GNSO Council during a conference call last month.

“Actual demand is unknowable until well after the launch of the SSAD,” an ICANN presentation (pdf) states. The Org contacted 11 research firms to try to get a better handle on likely demand, but most turned down the work for this reason.

On pricing, the ODP decided that it would cost a few hundred bucks for requestors to get accredited into the system, and then anywhere between $0.45 and $40 for every Whois request they make.

Again, the range is so laughably broad because the likely level of demand is unknown. A smaller number of requests would lead to a higher price and vice versa.

Even if there’s an initial flurry of SSAD activity, that could decline over time, the ODP concluded. In part that’s because registries and registrars would be under no obligation to turn over records, even if requestors are paying $40 a pop for their queries.

It’s also because SSAD would not be mandatory — requestors could still approach contracted parties directly for the info they want, for low or no cost, if they think the price of SSAD is too high or accreditation requirements too onerous.

“There’ll always be a free version of this for everybody,” Marby said on the conference call.

In short, it’s a hell of a lot of money for not much functionality. There’s a better than even chance it could be a huge waste of time and money.

An added complication is that the laws that SSAD is supposed to address, mainly GDPR, are likely to change while it’s being implemented. The European Union’s NIS2 Directive stands to move the goalposts on Whois privacy substantially, and not uniformly, in the not-too-distant future, for example.

This is profoundly embarrassing for ICANN as an organization. Created in the 1990s to operate at “internet speed”, it’s now so bloated, so twisted up it its own knickers, that it’s getting lapped by the lumbering EU legislative process.

The ODP is set to submit its final report to ICANN’s board of directors in February. The board could theoretically decide that it’s not in the interest of ICANN or the public to go ahead with it.

Marby, for his part, seems to be thinking that there could be some benefit from a centralized hub for submitting Whois requests, but that it should be simpler than the current “too complex” proposal, and funded by ICANN.

My take is that ICANN is reluctant to move ahead with SSAD as it’s currently proposed, but because top-down policy-making is frowned upon its hands are tied to make the changes it would like to see.

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New year, new server, new functionality

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2022, Gossip

Happy new year everyone!

I recently migrated DI to a new server that should allow me to both fix some issues that have bugged the site for a while, and also introduce new functionality.

It’s been a frustratingly complex process — my old hosting account was the best part of 20 years old and running incredibly outdated software that made it vulnerable and incompatible with modern must-haves.

It’s been a bit of a learning curve moving to a more modern platform, and I haven’t ironed out all the kinks yet, but I’m happy to announce that as of today Domain Incite is now SSL-enabled and mobile-friendly.

I’m not a phone person. I can’t imagine ever wanting to look at a web site on a phone, but I know lots of people do, and readers have sometimes complained that DI wasn’t particularly easy on the eye.

If that’s you, it should be easier to read from now on. You’re welcome.

I’ve also installed SSL, something else I’ve been asked about frequently. DI doesn’t ask you for any sensitive information, so I don’t know why anyone would want their traffic encrypted. But now it is, whether you like it or not.

Please do let me know if you find any weirdness or bugs in either of these features, or indeed anywhere else on the site, and I’ll do my best to address them.

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ICANN is blocking 23 gTLD transfers over blockchain fears

ICANN is objecting to the transfer of 23 new gTLDs from UNR to an unknown number of third parties, because it’s scared that the associated non-fungible tokens may break the internet and its own authority over it.

The mystery of how UNR’s auction in April of its entire new gTLD portfolio has so far not resulted in a single ICANN Registry Agreement changing hands appears to have been solved.

It’s because UNR bundled each contract sale with a matching top-level “domain name”, in the form of an NFT, on the Ethereum Name Service, an alt-root based on the Ethereum blockchain, and ICANN is worried about what this means for both the long-term interoperability of the DNS and its own ability to act as the internet’s TLD gatekeeper.

This all emerged in an emergency Request for Reconsideration filed by a company called Dot Hip Hop, which bought .hiphop from UNR earlier in the year.

It turns out .hiphop is the TLD alluded to by Digital Asset Monetary Network, which in October became the first to out itself as a UNR buyer while not naming its gTLD. The purchase was made separately from the April auction, despite .hiphop being “mistakenly” listed as one of the lots.

It also turns out that consultant Jeff Neuman, who’s been a leading figure in the ICANN community since its inception, was behind long-time employer Neustar’s application for .biz, and is a big fan of musical theater, is chief legal officer of and a partner in DHH.

In his reconsideration request, Neuman rages against the fact that it had been over 120 days at time of writing since DHH and UNR had applied to have the .hiphop contract reassigned, but that ICANN is continuing to drag its feet despite DHH long ago passing its due diligence review (which Neuman says cost an excessive $17,000).

DigitalAMN lists DHH as a subsidiary in its recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company is publicly listed but essentially pre-revenue, making its ability to start selling domain names rather quickly rather important.

ICANN has repeatedly delayed approval of the reassignment, provided no visibility into when approval will come, and has repeatedly asked the same questions — largely related to the NFTs — with only slight rewording, Neuman says:

ICANN Org has already communicated to DHH that it has already met all of the criteria required under the Registry Agreement. Yet still, ICANN is withholding consent based on its mere curiosity about the former owner of the .hiphop, TLD (UNR Co), and based on the questions that ICANN keeps re-asking, has presumably conjured up non-issues that: (a) have already been addressed by DHH on multiple occasions over the past 123 days, (b) are beyond the scope of ICANN’s mission, and (c) are philosophical, fictional and frankly do not exist in this matter.

The ENS NFT is a “de minimus” component of the transaction that DHH didn’t even know about until after it had already decided to buy .hiphop, the request states, and ICANN has no authority over the blockchain so the existence of an NFT is not a valid reason to deny the reassignment.

I think I also detect a race card being played here. The RfR spends a bit of time talking about how ICANN’s foot-dragging is making the Org look bad to “traditionally underserved communities where the Hip Hop culture has thrived, globally”.

Apparently referring to DigitalAMN, the RfR states:

In addition to such partner being established at the birthplace of Hip Hop (Bronx New York), by its founder who shares the same birthdate as Hip Hop (August 11th), its mission is to provide financial literacy and economic opportunities for those communities and cultures that are traditionally under-represented, under-funded and under-valued.

DigitalAMN is majority-owned and led by Ajene Watson, who is black. One of company’s stated goals is to connect early stage companies with capital from non-traditional investors (not just the “privileged few”) using non-traditional means.

The RfR goes on to say:

The most dominantly underserved, under-funded and under-valued communities, are also those that embrace and are part of the Hip Hop culture. This Partner has embraced what seemed to be an opportunity to provide domain name registration services to a culture that knows nothing of ICANN, nor the domain name industry. Now, its first impression of the ICANN community is unnecessary delay, a lack of transparency, and bureaucratic indecision—just another gatekeeper to prevent equitable access. In their eyes, they consistently see deadlines that are never met (by ICANN), a lack of information as to why their launch is being held up, and an entity (ICANN) that takes weeks/months to act on anything with no end in sight. In their view, it would appear that ICANN, as an organization, cares nothing about serving the public interest, or about the impact of its actions (or in this case inactions) on the undervalued communities this Partner aims to support.

It should be noted that 22 other unrelated UNR gTLD reassignments are also in limbo, so it’s not like ICANN has a problem in particular with hip-hop music or those who enjoy it.

ICANN, in its response to the RfR, lays all the blame with UNR for, it says, refusing to provide “fulsome and complete” answers to its questions about the NFTs. In a December 10 letter to Neuman, ICANN VP Russ Weinstein wrote:

Significant questions remain, including regarding the role and rights conveyed to the proposed assignees related to the NFTs created on the ENS. For these reasons, ICANN must continue to object to and withhold its consent to all pending Assignments proposed by UNR, including yours.

The RfR was denied by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee on a technicality. DHH had filed an “emergency” request based on ICANN’s staff inaction, but emergency requests only apply to board action or inaction.

Neuman appears to have known this in advance. It appears DHH just wanted to get something in the public record about the state of play with UNR’s gTLDs.

ICANN seems to have two problems with the NFTs, and they’re both big, existential ones.

First, ENS is essentially an alt-root, and when you have competing roots there’s the risk of TLDs colliding — two or more registries claiming authority for the same TLD — breaking the global interoperability of the internet.

Second, but related, the existence of alt-roots threatens ICANN’s authority.

ICANN has no authority over ENS or the NFT names that live on it, so for a registry to run a TLD in the both the authoritative ICANN root and the alt-root of the ENS could cause problems down the road.

While NFTs can be “owned”, gTLDs are not. UNR is merely the party ICANN has contracted with to run .hiphop. While UNR and any subsequent assignees have a presumptive right of renewal, it’s possible for ICANN to terminate the contract and hand stewardship of the gTLD to another registry. It’s not merely a hypothetical scenario.

Should that ever happen with .hiphop, ICANN wouldn’t have the authority to seize the ENS NFT, meaning the old registry could carry on running .hiphop in the ENS while the new registry runs it in the ICANN root, again breaking global DNS interoperability.

You could spin it either way — either ICANN is worried about interoperability, or it’s worried about protecting its own power. These are not mutually exclusive, and are both probably true.

One thing’s the sure, however — in roadblocking these gTLD transfers, ICANN is playing into the hands of critics and blockchain fanboys who argue for decentralized control of naming, with ICANN as their bogeyman.

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GoDaddy gets another year to negotiate .xxx contract

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2021, Domain Registries

ICANN and GoDaddy seem to have missed their deadline for long-term renewal of their .xxx registry agreement for a second time.

The contract was extended earlier this week until December 15, 2022, giving the parties another full year to bash out whatever amendments are needed.

The initial deal, signed in 2011, was due to expire March 31, but was extended until today to give more time for renegotiation.

.xxx was the last gTLD approved prior to the 2012 application round, and as such it has a few differences to the standard gTLD contract.

The fee structure is particularly complicated; originally, the registry had to pay ICANN $2 per domain, to stuff ICANN’s war chest for anticipated litigation, but that has been reduced through amendments over the years.

ICANN is always keen to bring older contracts into line with the standard Registry Agreement.

The .xxx contract, like legacy gTLDs before it, will be subject to public comment before approval.

GoDaddy is currently pushing renewals for its AdultBlock trademark-protection services.

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GoDaddy wins .tv contract after Verisign blows off 20-year deal

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2021, Domain Registries

GoDaddy is taking over the contract to run .tv from Verisign, after Verisign didn’t even bother to bid for renewal.

The deal brings to an end a relationship between Verisign and the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu that has lasted 20 years and contributed millions to the country’s economy.

The country’s communications ministry said on its Facebook page that GoDaddy Registry was selected after a “competitive tender process”, but DI understands that Verisign did not participate.

While terms of the new GoDaddy deal have not been disclosed, it seems likely that Tuvalu was looking for a far bigger slice of the pie than the $5 million a year it was getting from Verisign, and for moneybags Verisign, with its .com cash-printing machine, it simply wasn’t worth the hassle.

Tuvalu has around 11,000 inhabitants and gross national income of around $60 million — its .tv money was a big deal for the country, even at the amount Verisign was paying.

With a likely bigger chunk of change coming from GoDaddy, it’s going to have more to invest in what it calls its “digital nation” strategy, which appears to involve investing heavily in blockchain-based technologies to compensate for the fact that it may well disappear beneath the waves over the next few decades.

.tv is a cornerstone of this strategy, the government says.

There’s thought to be at least half a million registered .tv domains, and the bog-standard non-premiums retail for about $50 a year, so it’s been a nice little earner for Verisign over the last two decades.

The company first took on .tv in 2001 when it acquired startup .tv Corp, which had inked the original deal with Tuvalu in 1998, for $45 million. The contract has been renewed a few times since then.

The ccTLD was the first example of a mainstream TLD offering tiered pricing, with premium strings carrying bigger price tags — controversial 20 years ago, almost standard practice today.

There have been reports over the years that the country thought it was getting short-changed by the deal, and the contract was put up for bidding earlier this year.

Despite reports that the tender seemed suspiciously tailored for a Donuts win, it seems GoDaddy has emerged the victor.

One can only assume it’s offered Tuvalu a bigger slice of the pie, which is what it had to do (under its previous incarnation as Neustar) to keep hold of the contract to run Colombia’s .co last year.

Neither Verisign nor GoDaddy has publicly released a statement about the switch. While it’s a lot of money, it’s not strictly material to either company’s already swollen top lines.

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EURid’s CEO is retiring

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2021, Domain Registries

EURid’s long-serving CEO is leaving and the company has started looking for someone to fill the role.

A spokesperson for the .eu registry told DI this morning that Marc Van Wesemael is planning to retire after his replacement is found, which should be a matter of months.

Van Wesemael has been CEO (general manager) of the Belgium-based company since its foundation and since it was first awarded the contract to run .eu way back in 2005.

EURid announced without sentiment or fanfare this week that candidates should apply via an agency on this LinkedIn page.

Given the nature of the role as an EU government contractor, the company is looking for somebody familiar with the workings of the European Commission.

Van Wesemael’s departure announcement comes just a few months after EURid was re-awarded the contract to run .eu and its Greek and Cyrillic variants for another five years, giving his successor some breathing room.

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Omicron domain sells for $5,000

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2021, Domain Sales

The domain name omicronvariant.com, hand-registered less than six months ago, has sold for $5,000 via Sedo, raising all kinds of questions about the value and future of Covid-19 variant-related domains.

The domain, at time of writing, resolves to a Sedo parking page containing ads unrelated (for me) to the pandemic or healthcare.

It was registered in early June, just a day or two after the World Health Organization announced that it would start naming coronavirus variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.

At that time, and to this day, the delta variant is the dominant strain worldwide, and yet deltavariant.com is currently listed for sale for $2,000 at GoDaddy/Uniregistry.

It seems somebody out there is willing to bet that omicron will have the transmissibility speed and longevity to outstrip delta, become dominant, and make dropping $5,000 on the matching .com a wise investment.

Assuming non-nefarious use, I personally struggle to see the end-user value.

It appears that any .com combination of a Greek letter and the word “variant” that had not already been registered by June was quickly snapped up by speculators after WHO revealed its naming scheme.

Some domains, such as alphavariant.com and xivariant.com, were already in use by companies with web sites that predate the pandemic.

The company Nu Variant seems to have dodged a bullet — WHO skipped that letter because it’s a confusing homophone of “new” in some English dialects. It also skipped xi, as it’s a common name that happens to be shared by the premier of China, which was bad luck for the xivariant.com domainer.

All the other letters between delta and omicron have been assigned to variants that fizzled out or have failed to garner much media attention.

At this point, it seems quite possible that WHO will run out of Greek letters in a matter of months, but it reportedly has no current plan for its coronavirus nomenclature after that.

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Hamburg to have second crack at hosting ICANN meeting

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2021, Domain Policy

The City of Hamburg is to try again to bring in the ICANN crowd, after getting cancelled due to the pandemic last year.

German ccTLD registry DENIC, along with the city and local trade group eco, is taking a run at being selected as the host for ICANN 78, currently penciled in for October 2023, the company said this week.

It had been picked to host ICANN 69 in October 2020, but pandemic travel restrictions scuppered that opportunity.

The last six public ICANN meetings have been online-only, as will next March’s ICANN 73, which had been due to take place in Puerto Rico.

Hamburg’s chances would have to be said to be strong. Three other cancelled host cities — Kuala Lumpur, The Hague and Cancun — have already been confirmed for meetings in 2022 and 2023.

Of course, the ultimate decision-maker is a nucleic acid molecule wearing a spiky protein coat.

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