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Two more dot-brands take the easy way out

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

A US insurance giant with close to $50 billion in annual revenue has taken the decision to kill off its two dormant dot-brand gTLDs.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance has informed ICANN that it wants to cancel its .nationwide and .onyourside gTLD contracts.

Neither was being used beyond the obligatory nic.example web sites.

In fact, it appears that Nationwide cared so little about its dot-brands that both NIC sites inadvertently plug another, unaffiliated gTLD.

nationwide

The text on both sites reads:

To better serve our members, Nationwide has secured a top-level domain.

Now, when you visit a Nationwide.Insurance website, you can have confidence that it’s from the company you trust – Nationwide.

But Nationwide does not run .insurance, that’s owned by fTLD. It does however have nationwide.insurance registered and parked with the same messaging.

They’re the 87th and 88th dot-brands to cancel their ICANN registry agreements.

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RobinHood.club showered with five-star reviews after .com confusion

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Gossip

In a world where it’s still common for internet users to automatically assume companies use the .com version of their brand, instead of a new gTLD, it’s sometimes refreshing to see the opposite scenario occur.

It was a mixed blessing for a German price comparison app developer, which found itself confused with an American stock-trading app of the same name this week.

The company, which uses robinhood.club as its primary domain, received a handful of negative, one-star reviews on the Google app store, apparently from people who confused it with the scandal-hit trading app, which can be found at robinhood.com.

The American RobinHood was of course the app of choice for the Reddit users who last week clubbed together to pump the stock of floundering bricks-and-mortar games retailer GameStop, in order to frustrate the plans of big short-selling hedge funds and in many cases make some healthy profits screwing over The Man.

When RobinHood limited trading of GameStop and other stocks, it faced accusations of siding with billionaire Wall Street pros at the expense of armchair investors, and the unaffiliated German app maker seems to have taken some of the overspill of this criticism.

robinghood play store

But the negative impact was short-lived. When news of the confusion filtered back to Reddit, hundreds of users — who presumably had never used the app — flooded to the store to leave five-star reviews to counteract the one-stars.

robin hood

At time of writing, every review appears to be related in one way or the other to the stock-trading scandal, and the German app holds an average rating of over four stars.

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EURid reports 3% growth in final quarter before Brexit crunch

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The .eu ccTLD grew by 108,682 domains in the fourth quarter of 2020, the last reporting period before the full impact of Brexit is felt.

The registry said this week that it ended December with 3,684,984 names under management, a number which also includes .ею and .ευ. That’s a 3% increase over the three months.

Portugal was the big driver, due to local registrar promotions. It was up 64.8% sequentially and 116% year-over-year. Portuguese registrants owned 105,895 names at the end of the year.

The Q4 numbers show 77,000 names registered to UK registrants and do not reflect the impact of the Brexit transition, which ended at the end of the year.

EURid said last month that it had suspended around 80,000 domains belonging to about 48,000 registrants, as the UK fell out of eligibility.

Some of those will likely be recovered during Q1, as UK-resident EU citizens are still eligible for .eu domains.

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Webcentral to change its branding yet again after tricky takeover

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registrars

Pioneering Aussie registrar Webcentral is to undergo yet another rebranding under its new ownership.

The company said last week that its new strategy “will include the transition to a single brand, with a standardised set of core products”.

It also plans to bring its customer support back to Australia. It is currently outsourced overseas.

Its current brands include Melbourne IT, Netregistry, WME and Domainz. There’s no word on which of these, if any, will survive.

The company was founded as Melbourne IT and became one of the first half-dozen registrars accredited by ICANN over two decades ago.

It rebranded as Arq Group in 2018 after a series of acquisitions, and then again to Webcentral Group last year after a series of divestitures.

Late last year, it became majority-owned by a company called 5G Networks, beating a rival offer from Web.com.

That takeover is currently subject to protests to government regulators by shareholder Keybridge Capital, which believes the 5G takeover was coerced.

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Fire the board! Registrars attempt a coup at Nominet

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The registrars are revolting — again — at Nominet.

Members representing 12.2% of the .uk registry’s voting rights have put their names to a call for five of the company’s unelected directors, including CEO Russell Haworth, to be fired and replaced with two hand-picked alternatives.

The plan is to shake up the company by slashing wholesale .uk prices and donating more money to worthy “public benefit” causes.

Nominet has warned in response that such a move would be “highly disruptive to our work and our team”.

The campaign, which can be found at PublicBenefit.uk, was kicked off by the registrar Krystal Hosting, which has about 45,000 .uk domains under management.

Signatories want to call an Extraordinary General Meeting that would vote on kicking out Haworth, along with chair Mark Wood, registry managing director Eleanor Bradley and directors Benjamin Hill and Jane Tozer.

Four elected non-exec directors and two non-elected directors would remain.

A second resolution would replace these directors with former BBC Trust chair Sir Michael Lyons and former RIPE NCC managing director Axel Pawlik, who have both confirmed their interest in the positions. Lyons would be chair.

Only 5% of Nominet’s voting rights — calculated largely from how many domains each member manages — are needed to call an EGM. At 12.2%, the campaign has already succeeded in passing that threshold. It would need 50%+1 of those attending the EGM to actually carry the resolutions.

The campaign claims that Nominet has gone downhill ever since Haworth was appoint five years ago.

It claims that the amount of money Nominet donates to “public benefit” causes has shrunk from £26 million ($35.5 million) in the preceding five years to £9.8 million in the five years since. That’s even while its wholesale prices for .uk domains increased 50% from £2.50 to £3.75 a year.

Director pay has gone up by 70% over the same period, it claims.

The registry also stands accused of frittering away money on acquisitions and pointless diversification into non-core businesses. Krystal founder Simon Blackler wrote:

This is not a VC-backed Silicon Valley startup that needs to take risks, make speculative acquisitions, “pivot” or worry about unnecessary diversifications. This is Nominet, the guardian of the .UK namespace and we’d like it back, please.

A second — and arguably more-important, if you’re a cynic — goal is to get the price of .uk domains to come down. This would reduce the carrying cost of portfolios held for resale by some Nominet members.

In response, Haworth has blogged that “an EGM and change of board at this time would be highly destabilising to Nominet and disrupt a range of fantastic programmes that are currently underway or planned”. He wrote:

I understand that there are frustrations and disagreements about how we run the business, and we are open to looking at those and making any adjustments that are in the interests of the company and the wider stakeholder community we serve. More on that to come.

The company has just approved a pricey multi-year investment in improving the registry infrastructure, he wrote.

The board has also approved a new Registry Advisory Council, which would be made up of members and have the ability to make recommendations on pricing, which could address concerns that Nominet has not been especially responsive to its members, he wrote.

Nominet came under fire last year when it unilaterally closed down the discussion forums on its web site, announcing and executing the move during its Annual General Meeting, saying posters had become “increasingly aggressive and hostile” towards Nominet staff.

At time of writing, 153 Nominet members, including four of the top 20 by .uk domain volume, have signed up to the campaign.

UPDATE: This article was updated 1248 UTC to correct the composition of the board and voting thresholds.

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.club back over a million names as Clubhouse drives growth

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The .club gTLD’s zone file is back into seven figures as of last week, largely due no doubt to the increasing popularity of the new Clubhouse app.

As of yesterday, 1,005,145 domains could be found in the .club file, up from a recent low of 960,000 in early January.

The Clubhouse app, unaffiliated with .CLUB Domains, launched in April last year but started gathering mainstream media attention in mid-January, prompting a flurry of speculation in .club names. From what I gather, it’s an audio chatroom service.

It’s currently invitation-only, and only available on Apple’s iOS devices, which limits it reach. One assumes there could be upside potential for .club when the app fully opens up.

.club peaked at about 1.25 million domains in late 2019.

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Eight years after asking, Israel to get its Hebrew ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Israel is likely to be awarded the Hebrew-script version of its ccTLD, at a meeting of ICANN’s board of directors next week.

ICANN is poised to approved ישראל. (the dot goes on the right, in accordance with Hebrew writing practice), which means “Israel”, on February 8.

The beneficiary will be not-for-profit ISOC-IL, which has been running .il for the last 25 years. The Latin-script version currently has just shy of 270,000 domains under management.

ISOC-IL first expressed its interest in an internationalized domain name ccTLD (pdf) in 2012, but only received final technical approval from ICANN last May.

The proposal appears to have been held up by government delays in selecting a registry operator — government approval is a requirement under ICANN’s increasingly inappropriately named IDN ccTLD “Fast Track” program, which began in 2009.

It’s debatable how much demand there is for Hebrew domains. There are fewer than 10 million speakers in the world and most are very familiar with the Latin script.

Verisign’s gTLD קום., a transliteration of .com, has fewer than 1,700 domains in its zone file today, and is on a downward trend, two years after launch. Most are registered via local registrar Domain The Net, which had planned to compete with ISOC-IL for the IDN contract.

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Time is running out for Net4 as ICANN questions Indian court ruling

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2021, Domain Registrars

Struggling registrar Net 4 India has been hit with an unprecedented fourth concurrent breach-of-contract notice by ICANN, but an Indian court has ruled that ICANN should NOT terminate its accreditation.

It also turns out that Public Interest Registry wants to terminate its Registry-Registrar Agreement with Net4, after it failed to deposit about $22,000 in its account to cover renewal fees, putting 1,644 .org domains at risk.

The latest ICANN breach notice is much the same as the two delivered in December, both of which suggest that Net4 has been transferring its customers’ domains to a partner registrar, OpenProvider, without the registrants’ knowledge or consent.

They further suggest that Net4 has not enabled its customers to renew their domains or reclaim them after they’ve expired, and claim that the company has consistently refused to hand over records proving that its disputed transfers were legit.

Net4 also owes ICANN thousands in past due fees.

The company has been in quasi-judicial insolvency proceedings since 2017 over $28 million in unpaid bank loans that were acquired by a debt recovery agency called Edelweiss; its first breach notice came two years later when ICANN first learned of the case.

For some reason, ICANN did not terminate or suspend Net4’s contract back then.

With hindsight, this may have proven a bad move — during India’s first coronavirus lockdown last year, hundreds of Net4 customers started complaining about lost domains and non-existent customer service.

It was not until December last year that these complaints were escalated to the level of formal breach notices, and more threats to terminate its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

Net4, in response, asked its insolvency court for a ruling preventing ICANN and PIR from terminating their respective agreements. It reckons it can get is house in order in the next five or six weeks.

ICANN presented what appears to be a wealth of evidence of the company’s misconduct and argued that the court has no jurisdiction over ICANN anyway, because the RAA is governed by California law and ICANN has no presence in India.

Nevertheless, the National Company Law Tribunal in New Delhi has ruled, in a virtually impenetrable word soup of a document (pdf) that reads like it was vomited up by a Victorian-era college freshman who’d just rolled up and smoked an entire legal dictionary, that ICANN and PIR should not “terminate these agreements at least until three months from hereof”.

That would stay Net4’s executive until April 25. The latest ICANN breach notice gives the company until February 19 to come back into compliance, though technically there’s nothing stopping it starting termination proceedings today based on past notices.

The orders given to ICANN and PIR are more “requests”, due to the fact that the court couldn’t decide whether its words had any jurisdictional power over either.

Rather hilariously, ICANN said in a press release late Friday:

When a registrar fails to allow registrants to renew, transfer, and manage their domain names, ICANN will not hesitate to take whatever actions are necessary, up to and including termination of the registrar, to protect registrants’ rights and interests.

These are words that ring hollow, given that it’s allowed Net4 to slide three times already and has been hesitating since June 2019.

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UNR getting out of the registry business with $17 million no-reserve auctions on 23 new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2021, Domain Registries

UNR, the former Uniregistry, plans to auction off its portfolio of 23 new gTLD contracts in April.

The company, owned by domain investor Frank Schilling, said on a new web site at auction.link:

In a move to completely dedicate the company and its resources to its backend registry and IP rights protection services, UNR has announced that 23 of its Top Level Domain assets will be sold in no-reserve auctions on April 28, 2021.

The TLDs will be sold individually, rather than as a package.

While they’re all no-reserve auctions, the published starting prices add up to $16,870,000. Some have minimum bids of zero, some are less than the price UNR paid ICANN for its application fee back in 2012.

Here’s a list of the TLDs, along with their starting prices.

[table “63” not found /]

The prices appear to be based on the reg fee and volume of existing registrations, which range wildly from around 300 for .hiv to 159,000 for .link. The .country gTLD, aimed at country music makers and fans, currently has no starting bid listed.

The most-likely buyers of these gTLDs would be the rapidly dwindling list of fellow portfolio registries, such as Donuts and Radix.

While UNR’s exit from the registry business may be surprising — Schilling was a big fan of new gTLDs and Uniregistry applied for 54 of them, investing $69 million — it’s merely the latest stage of the business being dismantled.

Uniregistry sold its registrar and secondary market businesses to GoDaddy last year, and later sold its stake in three car-related gTLDs to business partner XYZ.com.

UNR said the April auctions will be managed over one day by Innovative Auctions, which is pretty much the de facto standard player in new gTLD auctions.

While the company says the auctions are open to “businesses and individuals”, I’m pretty sure ICANN rules forbid a gTLD being owned by individuals.

The company now plans to focus on being a pure-play back-end registry services provider, with a focus on dot-brand gTLDs, where it will continue to compete with the likes of GoDaddy, CentralNic, Donuts and Verisign.

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Amid .club boom, one AV vendor is blocking the whole damn TLD

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2021, Domain Registries

.club may be experiencing a mini-boom in sales due to the popular new Clubhouse app, but one antivirus vendor has reportedly decided to block the entire TLD.

According to Forbes, the free MalwareBytes Browser Guard plug-in will warn users attempting to visit .club sites that it’s a “suspicious top-level domain”, adding that .club is “frequently used by scam or phishing sites, but can be used by legitimate websites as well”.

Users can click through to dismiss the warning and visit the site if they choose.

It seems a lot like overkill or an algorithmic glitch to me — .club has never been a particularly malware-friendly TLD. According to SpamHaus, only 0.9% of the .club domains that it’s seen in the wild could be considered “bad”.

After a disappointing second half of 2020, which saw about 300,000 domains disappear from its zone file, .club has seen a bit of a recovery in the last two weeks, largely due to a popular new audio social media app called Clubhouse.

Since the app started getting media attention earlier this month, .club has become the latest TLD hit by domain investor speculation with .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell describing sales on January 15 as “absolute pandemonium”.

While .club has added about 30,000 domains to its zone since then, it’s not yet enough to counteract last year’s decline in volume. Luckily for .CLUB, many of its sales have been of premium-priced names.

It’s unlikely that these latest registrations are related to the MalwareBytes block.

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