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ICANN highlights “not getting things done” risk

Kevin Murphy, May 16, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors addressed a number of existential threats at its latest workshop, including the perception that it’s simply “not getting things done.”

Chair Maarten Botterman disclosed the discussions, which took place at the end of April, in a blog post Friday.

He described how the board broke up into four “brainstorming” groups, which returned with strikingly similar views on the risks ICANN faces.

There’s a worry that the lack of in-person meetings due to the pandemic is harming ICANN’s ability to work and that various unspecified “geopolitical initiatives” may get in the way of the mission. He added:

Moreover, we recognized the risk of ICANN being seen as “not getting things done.” On the opportunity side is the broad awareness within ICANN that we need to continue to deliver on our mission in the face of new challenges, as demonstrated by the prioritization efforts of the Board, Org, and Community, and our ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The Org and the community have been faced with what I would call organizational inertia in recent months and years.

I wrote a few months ago about how ICANN hadn’t implemented a policy since December 2016 — more than five years previously.

Major issues facing the industry seem to be either stuck in endless feedback loops of community arguments or interminable Org preparatory work.

The SSAD, pitched as a solution to the problem of Whois access, appears doomed to be scrapped entirely or approved in a much-reduced form that many believe will not address the problem of identifying registrants in a post-GDPR world.

And even if the stripped-back SSAD Light gets approved, there’s a good chance this will add many months to the runway of the next round of new gTLDs, which itself is at an impasse because the Governmental Advisory Committee and the the GNSO cannot agree on whether to allow closed generics.

As it stands, 10 years after the last application round new gTLD policy is in the Operational Design Phase within Org, and not expected to come before the board until late this year. Much of what has been disclosed about the ODP to date looks a lot like wheel-spinning.

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Another single-TLD brand protection service planned

BestTLD is planning to introduce a trademark-blocking service covering its single new gTLD, .best.

The company has asked ICANN for permission to launch what it calls the Best Protection service, which would provide domain blocks in lieu of defensive registrations in .best.

The service is similar to Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List and other industry offerings, but is perhaps most comparable to the Trademark Sentry offering .CLUB Domains came up with a few years ago.

While DPML lets brands block their marks as domains across Donuts’ entire stable of almost 300 TLDs, BestTLD’s offering, like .CLUB’s, focuses instead on blocking marks as a substring in a single TLD.

In other words, Facebook could subscribe to the service for the string “facebook” and it would block domains such as “facebook-login.best”.

A good thing about such services from a registry’s perspective is that, unlike domains, the same string can be sold multiple times to different owners of the same trademarked string.

The registry has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN and said it is ready to launch with back-end provider CentralNic whenever it gets approval.

Pricing was not disclosed, but if .CLUB’s $2,000 tag is any guide one might expect a super-premium fee.

Regular .best domains sell for about $20 a year and over 30,000 have been registered to date.

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Dot Hip Hop slashes prices 80% in relaunch

The industry newcomer run mainly by veterans, Dot Hip Hop said today it will slash the price of .hiphop domains by 80% in an effort to reinvigorate the languishing gTLD.

That appears to mean a wholesale fee reduction from $100 to $20 a year.

The price cut will be married with a focus on registry-level marketing that the TLD didn’t really get as part of the old UNR portfolio. Chief marketing officer Scott Pruitt said in a press release:

Domain registries that have invested in marketing directly to end-users have been the most successful in the last few years, This simple strategy of end-user outreach and lower prices combined with the enormous growth of hip-hop as a worldwide cultural and economic force, make us extremely optimistic about the future of our company.

Dot Hip Hop is a partnership of startup DigitalAMN and industry stalwarts Monte Cahn, Jeff Neuman and Pruitt.

The company acquired the .hiphop ICANN contract from UNR a year ago, in a deal that took until this January to close due to ICANN delays.

.hiphop currently has fewer than 1,000 domains under management, no doubt mostly due to the formerly high prices.

The wholesale fee cut seems to be translating to retail prices around $25 at the low end, competitive with most gTLDs.

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Three gTLDs to lose Donuts trademark protection

Three gTLDs are set to lose the trademark protection coverage at the end of the month, following their sale from Donuts to Public Interest Registry.

As noted by corporate registrar Com Laude recently, .charity, .gives and .foundation will no longer fall under Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List service as of June 1.

DPML is a blocking services whereby the registry reserves trademarked strings across its whole portfolio of almost 300 gTLDs in exchange for a fee that is a big discount on defensive registrations.

gTLDs not in the portfolio will naturally enough no longer qualify, but Com Laude reported that existing subscriptions will be honored and PIR will offer DPML users the chance to change to a full registration.

Donuts announced the sale of the three TLDs to PIR last December.

PIR doesn’t have its own DPML equivalent. Its portfolio is small and its biggest deal is .org, where the defensive blocking horse bolted decades ago.

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Tucows to reanimate Tucows brand as sales flatten

Tucows has become the latest domain name company to confirm it’s experiencing the post-pandemic blues, and said that it plans to revitalize the Tucows brand.

Reporting basically flat-to-down domain numbers on Thursday night, the company said that it plans to “more closely connect the Tucows parent and the registrar brands” in the coming months.

“For more than two decades, Tucows has been synonymous with domain registration. In the coming months, you will see a stronger connection of the Tucows brand with our registrar properties, with each anchored by the rich heritage of the Tucows name,” Dave Woroch, CEO of Tucows Domains, said in prepared remarks.

It’s not clear what this will entail in practice. The company’s main brands are Hover in retail and OpenSRS and Enom in wholesale, and you’d be hard pressed to find a mention of Tucows on any of their storefronts.

First-quarter domain revenue was “essentially unchanged” from the same period a year ago, at $61.5 million compared to $61.2 million.

Retail domains revenue was down to $9.1 million from $9.2 million. While wholesale revenue was $52.5 million versus $52 million, the increase was driven by value-added services rather than domain revenue, which was basically flat.

The renewal rate was a healthy 81%.

Woroch said that domain transactions “are now settling back in at pre-pandemic levels” after the lockdown bumps experienced over the last two years. He pointed to Verisign’s recent comments to suggest these are industry trends.

Including Tucows non-domains businesses, revenue was up 14% to $81.1 million and there was an overall net loss of $3.0 million compared to a profit of $2.1 million.

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Blockchain domains pose “significant risks” to internet, says ICANN

Kevin Murphy, May 10, 2022, Domain Tech

The internet could be fragmented and made less secure by the proliferation of blockchain-based naming systems, according to a recent position statement from ICANN’s chief technology officer.

The report, “Challenges with Alternative Name Systems” (pdf) worries aloud about systems such as Namecoin, Ethereum Naming Service, Unstoppable Domains, and Handshake.

It says: “the creation of new namespaces without any coordination (either among themselves nor with the DNS) will necessarily lead to name collisions, unexpected behaviors, and user frustration.”

“The end result might very well be completely separate ecosystems, one for each naming system, further fragmenting the Internet,” it concludes.

It’s a pretty brisk, high-level, 15-page summary of the various alt-root naming systems grouped around the “Web3” meme that have been gaining various levels of popularity over the last few years.

It doesn’t drill too far down into any of them and doesn’t really say much that we haven’t heard from ICANN before about blockchain naming, but it does broadly cover what’s out there, how these systems are used, and why they pose risks.

Opposition to alt-roots is an almost foundational principle of ICANN, documented in ICP-3, a 21-year-old document that dates from a time when alt-roots used standard DNS but with different root servers.

ICANN has in the last year pushed back against the newer blockchain-based alts, most prominently by delaying the sale of some gTLD contracts and forcing registry’s to renounce their ownership rights to gTLD strings.

One new addition to the debate that caught my eye was OCTO noting that a lack of coordination between the various alt-roots in operation today presents similar kinds of interoperability risks as does the lack of coordination between the alts and the authoritative root.

It notes that “at least four blockchain-based naming systems are competing today” and as a result “when developing an application, one must decide which blockchain-based naming system to use.”

“As there is no namespace coordination mechanism between those alternative naming systems, name collisions must be expected,” it says.

UPDATE: This story was updated at 2232 UTC to change the headline from “Blockchain poses ‘significant risks’ to internet, says ICANN” to “Blockchain domains pose ‘significant risks’ to internet, says ICANN”

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Russian registry hit with second breach notice after downtime

ICANN has issued another breach notice against the registry for .gdn, which seems to be suffering technical problems and isn’t up-to-date on its bills.

Navigation-Information Systems seems to have experienced about 36 hours of Whois/RDDS downtime starting from April 22, and is past due with its quarterly ICANN fees, according to the notice.

Contractually, if ICANN’s probes detect downtime of Whois more than 24 hours per week, that’s enough to trigger emergency measures, allowing ICANN to migrate the TLD to an Emergency Back-End Registry Operator.

Today, the registry’s web site hasn’t resolved for me in several hours, timing out instead, suggesting serious technical problems. Other non-registry .gdn web sites seem to work just fine.

NIS seems to be a Russian company — although most ICANN records give addresses in Dubai and Toronto — so it might be tempting to speculate that its troubles might be a result of some kind of cyber-war related to the Ukraine invasion.

But it’s not the first time this has happened by a long shot.

The company experienced a pretty much identical problem twice a year earlier, and it seems to have happened in 2018 and 2019 also.

NIS just can’t seem to keep its Whois up.

According to the breach notice, whenever Compliance manages to reach the registry’s 24/7 emergency contact they’re told he/she can’t help.

ICANN has given the registry until May 29 to fix its systems and pay up, or risk termination.

.gdn was originally applied for as something related to satellites, but it launched as an open generic that attracted over 300,000 registrations, mostly via disgraced registrar AlpNames, earning it a leading position in spam blocklists. Today, it has around 11,000 names under management, mostly via a Dubai registrar that seems to deal purely in .gdn names.

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Two countries could lose registrar competition after breach notices

ICANN has issued breach-of-contract notices to two small registrars, potentially reducing the number of accredited registrars in two countries to just one.

It’s sent notices to Tecnologia, Desarrollo Y Mercado S de RL de CV, one of two accredited registrars based in Honduras, and to Innovadeus, one of only two in Bangladesh.

In the former case, ICANN claims TDM has failed to respond to abuse reports and has been generally sluggish and reluctant to cooperate with Compliance requests.

In the case of Innovadeus, it claims the registrar — which records show has lost almost all of its domains under management in the last couple of years — has failed to pay its accreditation fees.

TDM has been told to shape up by May 27. Innovadeus has been given until May 26 to pay up. Failure in either case could mean termination.

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.tattoo — another UNR gTLD auction winner emerges

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2022, Uncategorized

It’s looking rather like Top Level Design has been outed as one of the winners of UNR’s April 2021 gTLD auction.

ICANN records have started to show that the company has taken over the contract for .tattoo, which was one of the 23 contracts UNR said it sold off as it attempted to exit the registry business.

Such a deal would make perfect sense — Top Level Design already runs the complementary TLD .ink, which is a slang term for tattoos.

.tattoo is a much smaller zone, with fewer than 3,000 names under management compared to .ink’s over 45,000.

At this point ICANN has not published the contract reassignment, and IANA still has UNR listed as the sponsor, but the point of contact for the Registry Agreement is now Top Level Design’s Andrew Merriam.

Assuming the assignment completes, that means the new owners of 14 of the 23 gTLDs UNR sold off are known.

XYZ.com bought 10 of them, GoDaddy two, and newcomer Dot Hip Hop bought .hiphop.

The handovers have been delayed by ICANN‘s insistence that registries disavow ownership rights to the strings in question, due to UNR bundling rights to blockchain-based alt-root equivalents in its auctions.

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Neustar now linked to scandal in the Catholic church

Neustar is having a bummer of a year for getting involved in major political scandals.

First, its execs were linked to allegations of an attempt to show Donald Trump was involved in “collusion” with Russia, and now it’s found itself in the middle of a corruption slash child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

There don’t appear to be any concrete allegations of wrongdoing by Neustar in the latest case, which involves a lot of mud-slinging between two elderly, bickering, controversy-wracked priests.

Rather, a senior church figure previously convicted and jailed and then cleared of child sex abuse is accusing an old rival currently standing trial on corruption charges of failing to explain money transfers that were said to be destined for Neustar.

George Pell is an Australian cardinal, the country’s most senior Catholic authority figure, who was very publicly convicted of child sex abuse offenses in 2018. His convictions were later overturned on appeal by the High Court of Australia.

Angelo Becciu is an Italian cardinal who, according to the religious press, served as the Pope’s de facto “chief of staff” until he was accused by the Vatican of embezzlement and corruption related to real estate investments last year.

Claims by Pell’s supporters have reportedly circulated in the Italian press for years that Becciu had sent church money to Australia in order to negatively influence Pell’s trial. The two men apparently don’t get on.

The reports even triggered a probe, which found nothing, by Australian regulators into a then-unnamed tech company.

But Becciu testified before a Vatican court last week that the AUD 2.3 million ($1.6 million) Pell has raised questions over was in fact used to pay Neustar Australia for operation of the .catholic gTLD in 2017 and 2018.

He said that Pell himself had authorized the payments, in a 2015 letter.

The Vatican had originally hired ARI/AusRegistry to be its registry partner for .catholic — which has never actually been used — but it had been acquired by Neustar by the time of the contested payments. Neustar’s registry is now owned by GoDaddy, which manages .catholic.

Following Becciu’s testimony, Pell issued a statement calling his story “incomplete” and saying:

My interest is focussed on four payments with a value of AUD 2.3 million made by the Secretariat of State in 2017 and 2018 to Neustar Australia, two of which with a value of AUD 1.236 million were authorised by Monsignor Becciu on 17/5/2017 and 6/6/2018. Obviously, these are different payments from those of 11/9/2015 which I allegedly authorised. What was the purpose? Where did the money go after Neustar?

The word “after” in that final sentence is certainly suggestive, but Pell did not elaborate.

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