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GoDaddy and MMX delay closure of $120 million gTLD deal

GoDaddy and MMX have extended the deadline for final closure of their $120 million gTLD acquisition deal by a couple weeks.

MMX said this week the delay is to give them more time to seek approvals from business partners in the four gTLDs that have not already made the move, believed to be .bayern, .boston, .miami and .nrw.

These are all geographic strings that require local government sign-off to complete the transfers.

The deadline had been August 7. It’s now August 23.

GoDaddy Registry has already taken control of 23 of MMX’s gTLDS.

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This company had every reason to want a dot-brand, but just killed it off

The latest dot-brand to terminate its new gTLD registry contract with ICANN could have been a case study in why dot-brands are a good idea.

Dabur India is 137 years old and makes over a billion dollars a year selling consumer goods — mainly cosmetics and personal care products, but also shady-looking Ayurvedic alternative medicines and supplements — in its home country and beyond, and it had experimented with using its .dabur gTLD over the last six years.

But it’s no longer interested, telling ICANN recently that it wants its Registry Agreement torn up, which ICANN has agreed to.

That’s despite the fact that Dabur appears to be suffering from exactly the kind of problem that dot-brands were supposed to help mitigate.

If you visit its web site at dabur.com today, you’ll be immediately presented with a very prominent pop-up warning you about scammers exploiting the Dabur trademark to grift money out of people who think they’re signing up to be official distributors.

The notice is lengthy but in part reads:

DABUR is only dealing with trade through www.dabur.com and any person claiming themselves to be taking order for the supply of DABUR products via phone/online may be cheating with you. DABUR shall not be responsible for any order placed other than on our official website www.dabur.com

One of the biggest selling points for the dot-brand concept is that customers can be taught to distrust any solicitation purporting to be legit if it does not originate from a domain in the relevant dot-brand.

If the notice on dabur.com is any guide, turns out you can do the same thing with a .com domain.

Dabur had briefly experimented with its gTLD not long after it was delegated. Current zone files show half a dozen .dabur names, but only two seem to resolve or show up in search engines. One redirects to the .com site.

Ironically, the other is doctor.dabur, in which Dabur solicits doctors to sign up to push its Ayurvedic products. Ayurveda is a form of medical quackery popular in South Asia.

Added to the recent self-termination of QVC’s .qvc, the total number of dot-brands to lose their registry contracts is now 91.

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Olympics: Australia preemptively blocking Brisbane 2032 regs

With the venue for the 2032 Olympic Games revealed as Brisbane, Australia last week, the .au registry this week asked people to stop trying to register Olympics-related domains, because they won’t work.

Local ccTLD registry overseer auDA said in a blog post that it’s seen a spike in attempts to register domains containing the string “olympics” and variants since the announcement was made a week ago.

But these strings are on auDA’s reserved list, which cannot be registered even as substrings without government permission. Only the Australian Olympic Committee is allowed to register such domains.

According to auDA, the protected strings are: olympic, olympics, olympicgames, olympiad and olympiads.

It’s a more comprehensive approach to protecting Olympic “trademarks” (for want of a better word) than that employed by ICANN in its gTLD registry contracts, where the various Olympic and Red Cross/Crescent organizations are among a privileged few to enjoy unique protections.

ICANN only requires registries to block the exact-match string from registration, while auDA will block substrings also.

auDA says the domain “BrissiOlympics.com.au” would be blocked. It would not in any ICANN gTLD.

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GoDaddy rides another 21 gTLDs into its stable

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Services

GoDaddy may have disavowed the domain registry business for much of the last decade, but it’s fast becoming one of the largest registry operators out there.

The company’s GoDaddy Registry unit this week took over the ICANN contracts for 21 more gTLDs, bringing the number of TLDs it either contracts for or technically manages close to the 200 milestone.

As well as taking on new gTLD success story .club, it’s also signed the Registry Agreements for 19 more strings formerly belonging to MMX, aka Minds + Machines, which plans to bow out of the industry after 10 years in business.

The MMX TLDs being moved are: .law, .abogado (“lawyer” in Spanish), .beer, .casa (“home” in Spanish), .cooking, .dds (“dentists” in American), .fashion, .fishing, .fit, .garden, .horse, .luxe, .rodeo, .surf, .vip, .vodka, .wedding, .work, and .yoga.

GoDaddy took over the back-end for .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex, belonging to former MMX subsidiary .ICM Registry, last week.

The remaining string to enter the portfolio is .design, which GoDaddy acquired from Top Level Design, which is still a going concern with its small portfolio of gTLDs.

There are still a few MMX TLDs that have not moved over, all of which appear to be the geographic strings it operates in partnership with local government backers. These will need additional clearances before transfer.

While GoDaddy has taken over the registry contracts for the 19 MMX TLDs listed above, their back-ends are still Nominet, according to IANA records. Clearly, that will change in future.

The MMX deal was worth $120 million. The values of the .design and .club deals were not disclosed.

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CentralNic expects H1 revenue of $174 million

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Services

A decade ago, CentralNic was scraping by selling domain names at the third level, and now it’s now on track to clear $300 million top line this year.

The domain industry consolidator said yesterday that it expects revenue for the first half of 2021 to be in the region of $174 million, which earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $20 million.

Third-quarter revenue is expected to be about $90 million, which works out to 63% growth or roughly 25% organic growth, excluding the impact of recent acquisitions.

Organic growth was 16% for the first quarter 2021 and 9% for the full year 2020.

The company also said cash is up and debt is down.

It’s pretty good going for a company that, when it listed on London’s AIM market in 2013 had H1 revenue of about $2 million, based on not much more than its dubious business of selling 3LDs under the likes of .gb.com and .uk.com and a couple of low-volume ccTLD back-end contracts.

Since then, its acquisition streak has seen it branch out into registrars (where it owns a bunch, wholesale and retail, of various sizes, all over the world) new gTLD back-end services (where it runs at least 90 TLDs) and, more recently, domain monetization.

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Domainers at risk as EnCirca takes over deadbeat registrar’s customer base

Customers of defunct registrar Pheenix risk losing their domains because the company was not properly escrowing its registrant data, according to the registrar taking over their domains.

EnCirca, which is taking over up to 6,000 domains previously registered with Pheenix, says the registrar’s shoddy escrow practices mean some of these domains may not be reunited with their rightful owners.

Pheenix “failed to properly escrow domain ownership information for many of the domains utilizing WHOIS proxy services”, EnCirca recently wrote, adding:

We anticipate that many domains will remain unclaimed due to bounced emails or inoperable proxy services. Locating rightful owners will be problematic since the data escrow is often devoid of any identifying ownership information.

To try to mitigate the problem, EnCirca is offering affected registrants the chance to prove ownership by filling out a form and uploading other evidence, such as Pheenix receipts or bank statements.

EnCirca added that because Pheenix disappeared still owing money to registries, the registries may be forcing renewal or restore fees that will then be passed on registrants.

If your domains were at or near expiration, restoring them could be complex and pricey or impossible.

If you’re affected, you can find information here.

Most or all Pheenix customers are likely to be domain investors. It was a drop-catcher, which once had over 500 dummy registrars in its expansive dropnet, most of which it subsequently de-accredited.

But it went AWOL last May, not responding to ICANN or paying its dues, apparently disappearing from the face of the Earth.

ICANN terminated its accreditation in May this year, and initiated a bulk transfer to EnCirca a couple weeks ago (which it only disclosed this week).

EnCirca has experience handling this kind of problem, which is presumably why ICANN gifted it the bulk transfer. In 2018 it took on the domains 49 of Pheenix’s shell registrars, which it says were suffering from the same escrow problems.

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Another new gTLD applicant lawyers up on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2021, Domain Policy

Another rejected new gTLD applicant has filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN, claiming the org failed to follow proper procedures on fairness and transparency.

And I think it’s got a pretty good chance of winning.

A Bahrain company called GCCXI has filed the IRP, eight years after its application for .gcc was thrown out by ICANN on the vague advice of its Governmental Advisory Community.

.gcc is for Gulf Cooperation Council, the short-hand English name for the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, a proto-union of six states on the east coast of the Arabian peninsula.

The applicant’s problem is that it’s not affiliated with, nor supported by, the GCC or its member states.

The GAC, in its controversial Beijing communique of April 2013 objected to GCCXI’s application in the same breath and under the same power as it objected to DotConnectAfrica’s .africa bid.

Back then, the GAC was much more secretive than it is today, and did not have to provide a rationale for its advice. Its powers to object to gTLD applications pretty much amounted to a veto.

ICANN dutifully followed the GAC’s advice, throwing out the .gcc application later that year.

The applicant has evidently been trying to get ICANN to change its mind, using the Request for Reconsideration and then Cooperative Engagement Processes, since early 2014. That CEP concluded in May, and GCCXI filed for IRP in June.

Why did the CEP — a form of arbitration designed to avoid expensive IRP complaints and lawsuits — take so long and ultimately fail?

Don’t look to the IRP complaint published by ICANN (pdf) for answers — it’s redacted the whole ruddy lot, a few pages of text, without explanation.

That’s ironic given that a lack of transparency is one of GCCXI’s beefs against the org, along with an alleged failure to follow its bylaws on neutrality and fairness.

ICANN has ignored all of its carefully developed and documented policies, and instead has kowtowed to unspecified government concerns — devising a secret process to kill Claimant’s investment and opportunity, and completely disregarding the public interest in delegating the TLD for use.

The continued fight for a gTLD it surely has no hope of ever operating is a ballsy move by the applicant.

It’s roughly equivalent to some random European company applying to run .eu to represent the geographic region of EU member states without the consent of the EU institutions themselves and then complaining when it’s told to take a walk.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will lose the IRP. In fact, I think it has a pretty good chance of winning.

GCCXI does not deserve to prove it should be given .gcc, it only needs to show that ICANN broke its own bylaws.

DotConnectAfrica, which was rejected by the GAC and then ICANN for pretty much the same unsubstantiated reasons — the GAC “veto” — won its IRP in 2015, with the panel finding that ICANN accepted the GAC’s unexplained advice without even rudimentary due diligence, violating its commitment to fairness.

It was particularly embarrassing for the GAC, whose then-chair admitted that the committee deliberately kept its advice vague and open to interpretation

While .africa is not exactly the same as .gcc (the former is officially a geographic string, the latter is not), GCCXI had DCA had their applications rejected based on the exact same piece of GAC advice.

It’s also similar to Amazon’s IRP fight for .amazon, which it won. That bid was also kicked out as a result of ICANN’s adoption of opaque GAC advice from the Beijing communique.

You’ve got to think GCCXI has a decent shot at a victory here, though if recent IRPs and general ICANN foot-dragging on accountability are any guide we won’t know for a couple years.

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Big names shunned as Nominet names first registrar council members

Nominet has named the first six members of UK Registrar Advisory Council, and I think it’s fair to say there’s a definite tilt towards the grassroots/activist end of the ballot.

Major registrars Tucows, Markmonitor and Web.com (Newfold Digital) were shunned, as members elected Rex Wickham of TwentyTwentyMedia and Arnaud Franquinet of Gandi, both smaller, lesser-known registrars, for two years and one year respectively.

From the mid-to-small registrar segment, two members who had vocally supported the PublicBenefit.uk campaign earlier this year were voted in — Andrew Bennett of Netistrar for two years and Dan Rodgers of Domain Registrar Services for one year.

The independent segment directors will be Susannah Clark, who trades as “Girl Next Door” for two years and Ciprian Cucuruz, Webber Multimedia for one year. Both had run unopposed.

The terms are different length for the first two years so they can be eventually staggered for continuity.

The UKRAC was introduced following the member revolt this March, which saw executives and staff removed and a promised overhaul with how Nominet conducts business and interacts with its members.

The panel will be chaired by member-elected non-executive director Anne Taylor. No date has been set for its first meeting.

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As judge freezes assets, is this OnlineNic domain portfolio really worth $70,000?

A California court has frozen the assets of beleaguered Chinese/American registrar OnlineNic, at the behest of Facebook, which is suing the company for alleged cybersquatting.

The judge in the case Friday mostly granted Facebook’s request for a temporary restraining order, banning OnlineNic from transferring money or domains out of the country.

It had discovered that the registrar had started transferring domains it has registered in its own name — about 600 of them — out of the country, to China-based Ename.

OnlineNic had told the court it could no longer afford to defend the case, and that it would shut up shop July 26.

Following Facebook’s request for a TRO, the registrar said it was merely moving the names to Ename so it could use its secondary market platform to raise $70,000 of the $75,000 needed to pay the so-called “Special Master”.

This is a court-appointed agent who had conducted a review of OnlineNic’s ticketing system records and found the company had deleted or obfuscated huge chunks of potential evidence.

OnlineNic has now told the court that it’s found a potential buyer, willing to pay $70,000 for the names in question.

This is the portfolio (pdf).

I’m no domain broker — I’m not even a domain investor — but even I have to wonder who would pay $70,000, or about $120 per name, for this junk. By sight alone, hardly any of them seem to be worth the base reg fee.

I’m guessing they’re dropped domains with traffic and/or the opportunity of selling them back to a forgetful original registrant.

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Nominet names new chair, slashes exec pay, promises reforms and more boardroom exits

Nominet has named its new chair as former BT Openworld CEO Andy Green, who has already laid out a suite of measures — including more blood on the boardroom floor — to address the barrage of criticisms from members who ousted his predecessor earlier this year.

Green is a serial director, with previous board and advisory positions at over a dozen other companies and organizations, mostly in technology and telecommunications.

Nominet, in announcing his appointment, highlighted that he’s a National Infrastructure Commissioner, chair of WaterAid UK, and vice chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

He’s got a foot in both the worlds of internet infrastructure and public-benefit causes, in other words — a CV seemingly ideal for the role at this time in Nominet’s troubled history.

In an email to members last week, Green said:

The EGM in March showed that Nominet has failed over a number of years to sufficiently engage with members about the scope and direction of the company. I start my term as Chairman committed to controlling costs (including executive pay), delivering value to members, restoring Nominet’s reputation for great public benefit work at scale and communicating transparently with members about the future direction of Nominet.

March’s Emergency General Meeting was called by members that Nominet seemed to be acting more as a commercial player rather than a public-benefit member organization, more concerned with branching out into new markets and stuffing its directors wallets than focusing on .uk and giving profits to charitable causes.

The EGM saw members narrowly vote to kick out almost half of the board, including the chair. Then-CEO Russel Haworth had quit just a few days earlier, before he too could be ejected.

Green said he wants to “reset the relationship with members starting now”.

He announced six reviews covering controversial areas including registry fees, executive/director compensation, charitable giving, member engagement and non-core services.

He also said that he expects that, following its Annual General Meeting on September 22, more than half of the board of directors will comprise people who were not in place prior to the March EGM.

By next year’s AGM, the board would be “substantially replenished”, he said.

Executives are also getting a battering — Green announced that Nominet has closed its long-term incentives scheme, “which will mean significantly reduced remuneration overall for senior executives”.

The company has named another new director, Eva Lindqvist, who as new chair of the board’s Remuneration Committee will oversee who gets paid what.

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