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Nigeria slashes prices to compete with .com

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2022, Domain Registries

Nigerian ccTLD registry NiRA has lopped about 40% off the price of .ng domain names, bringing them down to a level where they are .com-competitive.

The price for a second-level name has come down to a reported NGN 5,500, which works out to about $13 a year.

.ng currently has about 178,000 domains under management, which is pretty low for a nation of some 206 million people.

The move is in line with the Nigerian government’s digital economy policy, according to NiRA.

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.au names available today

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2022, Domain Registries

Australians are able to register domain names directly under .au for the first time today, after ccTLD registry auDA liberalized its hierarchy.

Second-level names under .au will at first only be available to existing registrants of matching third-level names in zones such as .com.au and .net.au, under a priority allocation process.

This process lasts for six months and allows domain owners to claim their matching 2LD more or less immediately, assuming there are no other registrants with matching rights.

In cases where more than one registrant applies for the name domain — such as when example.com.au and example.net.au are owned by different people — a contention process kicks in.

Registrants with reg dates before the cut-off of February 4, 2018 get priority over those with later dates.

If there are only registrants with names newer than the cut-off date, the oldest one gets priority.

If there are only registrants with names older than the cut-off date, they’ll have to come to a bilateral agreement about who gets the name. If they can’t come to a deal, the name stays reserved, and the applicants will have to renew their applications annually, until only one applicant remains.

There are no auDA-backed auctions envisaged by the process.

Any domains that are unclaimed at the end of the priority process will be released into the available pool on September 20.

It’s a much shorter grandfathering period than other liberalized ccTLDs, such as Nominet, which gave .co.uk registrants five years to claim their matching 2LD, and it will be interesting to see what impact this has on uptake.

Direct .uk domains became available in June 2014, and six months later barely a quarter million had been registered, against over 10 million third-level names.

As the five-year priority window drew to a close in 2019, there were about 2.5 million .uk 2LDs, but this spiked to 3.6 million in the final month, as registrants waited until the last minute to claim their names.

That turned out to be the peak — .uk 2LDs stand at fewer than 1.4 million today, compared to the 9.7 million third-level names. It’s still quite rare to spot a direct .uk name in the wild here.

One interesting kink in the priority process is that auDA, which has stricter rules than many other ccTLDs, will check that anyone who applies for a 2LD is in fact eligible for the 3LD they currently hold, which could dissuade applications.

.au currently has 3.4 million third-level domains under management.

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GoDaddy acquires DNAcademy

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2022, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has acquired DNAcademy, which provides online domain-investing learning services, for an undisclosed sum.

The two companies announced yesterday that GoDaddy has not only bought the content of the DNAcadamy web site, but also the services of founder Michael Cyger, who will become GoDaddy’s first director of education.

While the deal brings DNAcademy’s content to a potentially vastly larger audience, it’s not clear that all existing customers will benefit.

Cyger posted that people currently on a $499 annual membership will have their contracts honored, but it’s still not clear what will happen to those who handed over $949 for a “lifetime” membership.

“Lifetime members: Although the DNAcademy customer base was not acquired, GoDaddy values the relationships DNAcademy cultivated with domain name investors and will make best efforts to provide access to the new offering,” he wrote.

DNAcademy is not accepting new memberships while its services are being integrated with GoDaddy Domains, which is expected to take several months.

For GoDaddy, the secondary market is now the big driver of domains revenue, contributing about two thirds of its growth last year.

The company already makes it fairly easy for its customers to list their domains for resale, and presumably it expects DNAcademy to help turn more of its millions of registrants into domainers.

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Google to launch a shopping-themed gTLD next week

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Google is dipping into its bag of dormant gTLDs again, planning to start selling a shopping-themed string next week, apparently having abandoned plans to use it as an exclusively YouTube-related space.

The gTLD is .channel, which it applied for 10 years ago as a closed, Google-only gTLD, with this mission statement:

The sole purpose of the proposed gTLD, .channel, is to host select YouTube channels’ digital content. The proposed gTLD will introduce a dedicated Internet space in which select YouTube channel providers can link to the content hosted on their respective YouTube page.

But the company has changed its mind in the intervening decade and the new plan bears little resemblance to the application.

Now, we’re looking at something commerce-themed that at least at first will be sold via hand-picked channel partners. There’s no mention of YouTube in the registry’s new policies, which state:

.channel domain names are intended solely for use by creators and publishers to host or redirect to storefronts featuring digital and physical products, and audience-building mechanisms for the purpose of monetization.

That sounds rather like it’s going up against the likes of .shop, .store and .shopping.

While a weaker string, Google’s brand carries a lot of weight when it comes to new gTLD sales, and it sounds like the company is going to lean into partners for its initial wave of registrants a little like Amazon did with .bot.

The current launch plan submitted to ICANN calls for a year-long Limited Registration Period starting May 2, saying:

prospective registrants may submit an application to register a .channel domain name through an onboarded content creation platform (each, a “Platform”) on which the prospective registrant has an account.

Platforms will review applications and work with Registry Operator to have domains registered to prospective registrants

I’m speculating a bit here, but I’m guessing we’re talking about e-commerce and storefront-creation services, which could include both registrars and non-registrars.

Before the LRP, the company has told ICANN (pdf) that the invitation-only Qualified Launch Period for .channel will begin on March 29 and run to May 2.

This period, where domains may carry a premium fee, gives the registry a chance to build up its base of anchor tenants who can be leveraged to market .channel to a broader customer base.

Trademark owners will want to note that the sunrise period runs from April 5 to May 9. They’ll have to launch a rules-compatible storefront or keep their domains defensively dark.

There’s no word on general availability yet.

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Another DNSSEC screw-up takes down thousands of .au domains

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Australia’s ccTLD has become the latest to see a widespread outage that appears to be the result of a DNSSEC misconfiguration.

A reported 15,000 .au domains were affected, though some suspect it could have been more.

Registry overseer auDA said on Twitter that .au “experienced an error” that affected a “small number of domains” and that an investigation was underway.

Donuts subsidiary Afilias, which runs the back-end for .au’s more that 3.4 million domains, has yet to publicly comment.

Network operators and DNS experts took to social media and mailing lists to observe that .au’s DNSSEC was broken, though it appears the problem was fixed rather quickly.

DNSSEC creates a chain of cryptographic keys all the way to the DNS root, and when that chain is broken by a misconfiguration such as a missing key, most DNSSEC-enabled resolvers treat the affected domains as if they simply don’t exist.

That means services such as web sites and email addresses stop working until the chain is reestablished. People not using DNSSEC resolvers wouldn’t have seen a problem.

It’s the third TLD to experience a significant outage due to DNSSEC in the last six weeks.

In February, thousands of domains in Sweden’s .se went dark for hours, and Fiji’s entire .fj zone disappeared for DNSSEC users less than two weeks ago.

The outage comes at a particularly unfortunate time in terms of public relations for auDA, which on Thursday will start making direct second-level .au registrations available for the first time.

It’s not immediately clear whether the DNSSEC fluff is related to the SLD launch.

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XYZ bought most of Uniregistry’s TLDs

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2022, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has emerged as the winning bidder for 10 of the 17 new gTLDs that UNR, formerly Uniregistry, auctioned off last year.

The company bought .audio, .christmas, .diet, .flowers, .game, .guitars, .hosting, .lol, .mom and .pics, according to ICANN, which approved the transfer of each registry agreement today.

As previously reported, a new company called Dot Hip Hop bought .hiphop, albeit not at auction.

The contract reassignments come almost a year after the auction took place, and were delayed after ICANN got nervous about the fact that UNR had apparently sold matching Ethereum Name Service blockchain domains at the same time.

“This raised concerns because ICANN org was being asked to approve transactions that included not only the transfer of gTLD operations set out in the relevant registry agreements, but also included references and/or implications of the transfer of ownership rights in the gTLDs,” ICANN veep Russ Weinstein wrote today.

“To be clear, the registry agreements do not grant any property ownership rights in the gTLD or the letters, words, symbols, or other characters making up the gTLD string,” he added.

Six more UNR gTLD contracts remain in the approval process, but ICANN blamed this on the timing of when the assignment requests were submitted.

The UNR auction last April raised over $40 million, according to UNR.

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What to make of this strange trend in new domain regs?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2022, Domain Registries

Are people getting the shortest domain possible when they register in a new gTLD?

Every month uber-registry Donuts publishes data about its portfolio, such as which gTLDs are most popular, in which region, what its most popular premium names are, and what keywords are most commonly registered at the second-level.

For the past few months, I’ve noticed what may be considered an unusual trend — many of the most popular SLD keywords are already gTLDs in their own right, suggesting registrants may not be getting their optimal domain.

The top 10 second-level keywords in February were: today, meta, letter, first, digital, verse, online, club, life, and home.

Put a dot in front of them, and five are also gTLDs — .today, .digital, .online, .club, and .life — some of which Donuts actually manages. One of them, .home, has multiple outstanding applications but has been essentially banned by ICANN due to high levels of name collision.

It’s even more noticeable in January’s numbers, with seven gTLD matches — online, life, digital, free, green, shop, world — in the top 10 SLD keywords.

In December there are six — today, group, online, digital, world and life. In November, four — online, digital, life, group. In October, six — digital, online, life, tech, shop, group.

It shouldn’t be hugely surprising that there’s a crossover between gTLD strings and popular SLD strings — one of the ways Donuts and others picked their gTLDs was by scouring the .com zone file for the most-common SLD endings.

The idea was that if Peter owned, or was thinking of registering, peterspickledpeppersonline.com, he might reasonably want to upgrade to the shorter peterspickledpeppers.online.

Donuts consistently says that the domains it sells are 20% shorter than domains registered in .com over the comparable period.

But its data suggests that this they’re not always getting their optimal domain. People are registering in new gTLDs, but they’re often not using the gTLD that would make their overall domain shorter.

I wonder why this is.

Cost could certainly be a factor. There’s not a massive amount of difference between a .online and a .live, and both are typically more expensive than .com, but it might be an issue for registrants on tight budgets.

It seems more likely that a lack of awareness among registrants may be the main issue — they don’t know the full breadth of options available to them (hell, even I don’t, and this is my job).

Registrars’ name spinners aren’t always helpful raising this awareness.

I typed the string “peterspickledpeppersonline” into the storefronts of seven popular registrars, all of which carry new gTLDs, and found that two of them didn’t offer peterspickledpeppers.online among their suggestions at all.

On some, the domain was way down the list, after far less-relevant suggestions, even though it is shorter and carries a higher price.

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EURid appoints new CEO

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2022, Domain Registries

EURid has named its new CEO, or general manager, as Peter Janssen.

Janssen is currently technical manager at the registry, where he’s been since .eu went live over 15 years ago.

He’ll replace longstanding boss Marc Van Wesemael, who’s retiring.

Janssen previously worked for DNS Belgium, also as technical manager.

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Mutually assured destruction? Now Afilias faces .web disqualification probe

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2022, Domain Policy

Afilias’ ongoing quest to have Verisign’s winning bid for the .web gTLD thrown out may have backfired, with ICANN now launching a probe into whether Afilias’ own bid should be disqualified.

Afilias and Verisign could now BOTH be kicked out of the .web fight, delivering the coveted gTLD into the hands of the third-placed bidder for a knock-down price.

There’s even the possibility that Verisign’s winning $135 million bid could be more than cut in half, taking tens of millions out of ICANN’s coffers.

ICANN’s board of directors on Thursday said it will investigate not only whether Verisign broke new gTLD program rules by using a Nu Dot Co as proxy to bid, but also whether Afilias broke the rules when an executive texted NDC during a pre-auction comms blackout period.

It’s the first time board has resolved to take a look at the allegations against Afilias, which so far have only come up in letters and arbitration filings from Verisign and NDC.

The .web auction in 2016 resulted in a winning bid of $135 million from NDC. It quickly emerged that its bid was bankrolled by Verisign, which had not directly applied for .web.

Afilias’ applicant subsidiary (now called Altanovo Domains, but we’re sticking with “Afilias” for this story) has been trying to use Verisign’s sleight-of-hand to get the auction overturned for years, on the basis that ICANN should have forced NDC to show its cards before the auction took place.

An Independent Review Process panel last year ruled that ICANN broke its own bylaws by failing to rule on Afilias’ allegations when they were first made, and told ICANN to put .web on hold while it finally formally decides whether Verisign broke the rules or not.

What the IRP panel did NOT do was ask ICANN to rule on Verisign’s counter-allegations about Afilias violating the auction blackout period. ICANN’s decided to do that all by itself, which must piss off Afilias no end.

The board resolved last week, with my emphasis:

Resolved (2022.03.10.06), the Board hereby: (a) asks the [Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee] to review, consider and evaluate the allegations relating to the Domain Acquisition Agreement (DAA) between NDC and Verisign and the allegations relating to Afilias’ conduct during the Auction Blackout Period; (b) asks the BAMC to provide the Board with its findings and recommendations as to whether the alleged actions of NDC and/or Afilias warrant disqualification or other consequences, if any, related to any relevant .WEB application; and (c) directs ICANN org to continue refraining from contracting for or delegation of the .WEB gTLD until ICANN has made its determination regarding the .WEB application(s).

I see four possible outcomes here.

  • Nobody gets disqualified. Verisign wins .web and ICANN gets to keep its $135 million. Afilias will probably file another IRP or lawsuit.
  • Verisign gets disqualified. Afilias gets .web and ICANN probably gets paid no more than $79.1 million, which was its maximum bid before the auction became a two-horse race. Verisign will probably file an IRP or lawsuit.
  • Afilias gets disqualified. Verisign wins .web and then it has to be figured out how much it pays. I believe the high bid before the third-place bidder pulled out was around $54 million, so it could be in that ball-park. Afilias will probably file another IRP or lawsuit.
  • Both Afilias and Verisign get disqualified. The third-placed bidder — and I don’t thinks its identity has ever been made public — wins .web and pays whatever their high bid was, possibly around $54 million. Everyone sues everyone else and all the lawyers get to buy themselves a new summer home.

The other remaining applicants are Donuts, Google, Radix and Schlund. Web.com has withdrawn its application.

The people who will decide whether to disqualify anyone are the six members of the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee who are not recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest (Edmon Chung has a relationship with Afilias).

Given that the board has already ruled that it has a fiduciary duty to dip into the new gTLD auction proceeds pretty much whenever it pleases, can’t we also assume that it has a fiduciary duty to make sure that auction proceeds pool is as large as possible?

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Closed generic gTLDs likely to be allowed, as governments clash with ICANN

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2022, Domain Policy

So-called “closed generics” seem to be on a path to being permitted in the next new gTLD application round.

The issue reconfirmed itself at ICANN 73 last week as a major point of disagreement between governments and ICANN, and a major barrier to the next round of new gTLDs going ahead.

But a way forward was proposed that seems likely to to permit closed generics in some form in the next round, resolving an argument that has lasted the better part of a decade.

It seems ICANN now expects that closed generics WILL be permitted, but restricted in some yet-to-be-decided way.

A closed generic is a gTLD representing a dictionary word that is not also a brand, operated by a registry that declines to sell domains to anyone other than itself and its close affiliates.

Imagine McDonald’s operating .burgers, but no other fast food chain, cow-masher, or burger afficionado is allowed to register a .burgers domain.

ICANN’s 2012 application round implicitly allowed applications for such gTLDs — at least, it did not disallow them — which prompted outrage from the governments.

The GAC’s Beijing communique (pdf), from April 2013, urged ICANN to retroactively ban these applications unless they “serve a public interest goal”.

The GAC identified 186 applications from the 2012 round that appeared to be for closed generics.

ICANN, taking the GAC’s lead, gave these applicants a choice to either convert their application to an open generic, withdraw for a refund, or maintain their closed generic status and defer their applications to the next round.

Most opted to switch to an open model. Some of those hacked their way around the problem by making registrations prohibitively restrictive or expensive, or simply sitting on their unlaunched gTLDs indefinitely.

The GNSO policy for the next round is inconclusive on whether closed generics should be permitted. The working group contained two or three competing camps, and nobody conceded enough ground for a consensus recommendation to be made.

It’s one of those wedge issues that highlights the limitations of the multistakeholder model.

The working group couldn’t even fall back on the status quo since they couldn’t agree, in light of ICANN’s specific request for a clear policy, what the status quo even was.

Policy-makers are often also those who stand to financially benefit from selling shovels to new gTLD applicants in the next round. The fewer restrictions, the wider the pool of potential clients and the more attractive the sales pitch.

The working group ended up recommending (big pdf) further policy work by disinterested economics and competition law experts, which hasn’t happened, and the GNSO Council asked the ICANN board for guidance, which it refused to provide.

The GAC has continued to press ICANN on the issue, reinforcing its Beijing advice, for the last year or so. It seems to see the disagreement on closed generics as a problem that highlights the ambiguity of its role within the multistakeholder process.

So ICANN, refusing to create policy in a top-down fashion, is forcing the GAC and the GNSO to the table in bilateral talks in an attempt to create community consensus, but the way the Org is framing the issue may prove instructive.

A framework for these discussions (pdf) prepared by ICANN last week suggests that, when it comes to closed generics, an outright-ban policy and an open-door policy would both be ruled out from the outset.

The paper says:

It is evident from the PDP deliberations and the community’s discussions and feedback that either of the two “edge outcomes” are unlikely to achieve consensus; i.e.:

  • 1. allowing closed generics without restrictions or limitations OR
  • 2. prohibiting closed generics under any circumstance.

As such, the goal could be to focus the dialogue on how to achieve a balanced outcome that does not represent either of these two scenarios. The space to be explored in this dialogue is identifying circumstances where closed generics could be allowed (e.g., when they serve the public interest, as noted by the GAC Advice). This will likely require discussions as to the types of possible safeguards that could apply to closed generics, identifiable public interest goals for that gTLD and how that goal is to be served, with potential consequences if this turns out not to be the case.

It sounds quite prescriptive, but does it amount to top-down policy making? Insert shrugging emoji here. It seems there’s still scope for the GAC and GNSO to set their own ground rules, even if that does mean relitigating entrenched positions.

The GAC, in its ICANN 73 communique (pdf) said yesterday that it welcomes these talks, and the GNSO Council has already started to put together a small team of councillors (so far also former PDP WG members) to review ICANN’s proposal.

ICANN expects the GNSO-GAC group to begin its work, under an ICANN-supplied facilitator, on one or more Zoom calls before ICANN 74 in June.

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