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New gTLDs grow in China as .cn regs slide

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2023, Domain Registries

China-based registrations of .cn domains decreased in the first half of last year, while new gTLD swelled to pick up the slack, according to the local registry’s semi-annual report.

CNNIC published the English translation of its first-half 2022 statistical report in December, showing a steep decline in .cn regs, from 20,410,139 at the end of 2021 to 17,861,269 at the end of June last year.

These appear to be registrations made by registrants based in China. Verisign’s Domain Name Industry Brief for Q2 2022 shows .cn at 20.6 million.

While .cn slumped, new gTLDs saw an uptick of almost a million names in China, from 3,615,751 domains to 4,590,705 over the six months. New gTLDs accounted for 13.6% of all China-registered domains, the CNNIC report says.

The report also shows that the number of Chinese-registered .com names dropped by about half a million, to 10,093,729 from 10,649,851, over the period.

The full report can be viewed here (pdf).

Drop-catcher adds 100 more registrars after rapid growth

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2022, Domain Registrars

Drop-catcher Gname has added 100 new ICANN shell registrar accreditations, according to ICANN records.

The Singapore-based company has created companies with the names Gname 051 through Gname 150 for the new accreditations, which are used to increase its number of concurrent EPP connections to the .com registry and therefore its chance of catching a valuable deleting domain.

Each accreditation costs a minimum of $4,000 in ICANN fees per year.

The latest ICANN registry reports show that the parent Gname accreditation had 1,864,283 .com domains under management at the end of August, when it had only 50 active accreditations.

That was a huge increase on the 354,644 domains it had a year earlier, when it had just 10 active registrars. It seems the company is testing how far this up-scaling strategy can go.

The move means ICANN now has 2,655 accredited registrars on its books, far ahead of the 2,447 predicted for the end of June 2023 by ICANN’s current fiscal-year budget.

Domain universe shrinks again: .com and .cn down, .au up

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2022, Domain Registries

The number of registered domain names in the world shrank again in the third quarter, with mixed results across various TLDs, according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

There were 349.9 million names across all TLDs at the end of September, down 1.6 million sequentially but up 11.5 million compared to Q3 2021, the DNIB states.

The industry has downsized in every quarter this year, judging by Verisign’s numbers.

The company’s own .com, suffering from post-Covid blues, macroeconomic factors and (possibly) pricing issues, dragged the overall number down in Q3 by 200,000 domains, ending with 160.9 million.

But China’s .cn was hit harder, ending the period down from 20.6 million to 18 million. As I pondered in September, this may be due to how Verisign sources data.

Australia’s .au benefited from the launch of second-level availability, which boosted its number by 400,000 domains, ending with 4 million and overtaking .fr and .eu to become the seventh-largest ccTLD.

The ccTLD world overall shrunk sequentially by 1.7 million names but grew by 5.7 million on the year to end the quarter with 132.4 million.

New gTLDs ended with 27.3 million names, up 300,000 sequentially and 3.8 million year over year.

Verisign growth slows with post-Covid blues

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign sold fewer .com and .net domains than it did a year ago in the third quarter and has once again slashed its outlook for the year.

It had 174.2 million names across the two TLDs at the end of September, an increase of 1.2% over the year but down by around 100,000 names (rounded) on the quarter.

There were 9.9 million new domains sold. That compares to 10.1 million in the second quarter and 10.7 million in Q3 last year.

It now expects its total domains under management to increase by between 0.25% and 1% for the full year. That compares to the between 0.5% and 1.5% it predicted at the end of Q2, the 1.75% and 3.5% predicted in April, and the between 2.5% and 4.5% it predicted in February.

That equates to 2022 revenue of $1.418 billion to $1.426 billion, CFO George Kilguss told analysts. Verisign’s always jaw-dropping operating margin is expected to be between 65.75% and 66.25%.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts the slower growth can the attributed to the general macroeconomic malaise, Verisign coming off the lockdown bump experienced in 2020 and 2021, and the perennial issue of Chinese lumpiness.

Renewal rates for Q3 are expected to be 73.8%, the same as Q2 but down from 75% a year-ago.

But the company continues to make money hand over fist. Revenue was up 6.8% compared to Q3 last year at $357 million and net income was up to $169 million compared to $157 million a year ago.

Taliban seizing domains to silence journalists

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2022, Domain Registries

The Taliban is attempting to close down independent media outlets in Afghanistan by deleting their .af domain names.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology tweeted that the sites of Hasht-e Subh Daily and Zawia News were “taken down” for publishing “unbalanced reports and fake news”.

.af’s registry is government-run.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the two sites have been reporting by Afghans in exile since the Taliban retook the country over a year ago.

Both outlets have now switched domains to TLDs based in the US — Verisign and Identity Digital, where presumably they’re pretty safe from the Taliban’s reach. They’re now using zawiamedia.com and 8am.media instead of the original .af names.

.com and .net are the drag factor on domain industry growth

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign’s own gTLDs .com and .net slowed overall domain industry volume growth in the second quarter, according to its latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

June ended with 351.5 million registrations across all TLDs, up 1 million sequentially and 10.4 million year-over-year.

Growth would have been slightly better without the drag factor of .com and .net, which were down 200,000 domains each sequentially, as Verisign previously reported in its Q2 financial results. There were 161.1 million names in .com and 13.2 million in .net.

The ccTLD world grew by 700,000 names sequentially and 2.6 million compared to a year earlier, the DNIB states.

New gTLD names were up by the same amount sequentially and 4.1 million year over year, ending the quarter at 27 million.

Verisign to crack down on Chinese domains

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign has asked for permission to implement a more stringent regime for denying or suspending .com and .net domain names registered in China, to comply with the country’s strict licensing rules.

The changes appear to mean that customers of Chinese registrars who have not verified their identities, which Verisign says is a “very small percentage”, will be prevented from registering new domains and may lose their existing domains.

The company has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN, proposing to tweak the registrant verification system it has had in place for the last five years in a few significant ways.

China has a system called Real Name Verification, whereby Chinese citizens have to provide government-issued ID when they register domains. Local, third-party Verification Service Providers such as ZDNS typically carry out the verification function for Verisign and other foreign registries.

The big change is that Verisign will no longer allow names to be registered without a valid code.

The RSEP says that attempts by China-based registrars to register domains without the required government verification code will result in the EPP create command failing, meaning the domain will not be registered.

Under the current system, outlined in a 2016 RSEP (pdf), the name is registered and Verisign presumably takes the money, but the domain is placed on serverHold status, meaning it is not published in the zone and will not resolve.

The new system will also allow Verisign to retroactively demand codes for already-registered names, when they come up for renewal or transfer, with the option to suspend or delete the names if the codes are not provided. The RSEP (pdf) states:

With regard existing domain names without the required verification codes, which currently comprise a very small percentage of domain name registrations from registrars licensed to operate in the People’s Republic of China, Verisign intends to address compliance issues with these domain names directly with registrars. Verisign reserves the right to deny, cancel, redirect or transfer any domain name registration or transaction, or place any domain name(s) on registry lock, hold or similar status

It’s not clear what a “very small percentage” means in hard numbers. A small slice of a big pie is still a mouthful.

Verisign has substantial exposure to the Chinese market. On the odd occasion when .com shrinks, it’s largely due to speculative registrations from China not being renewed, such as in the second quarter this year.

The RSEP names the service the Domain Name Registration Validation Per Applicable Law service. While it’s in theory applicable to any jurisdiction’s laws, in practice it’s all about addressing the demands of the Chinese government.

Verisign announces ANOTHER price increase as regs slide

Verisign posted a rare decrease in its .com/.net registered name base in the second quarter, but said it is going to raise its .net prices next year anyway.

The company also massively slashed its growth outlook for domain sales this year.

The annual cost of a .net name will go up 10%, the maximum permissible under its contract with ICANN, to $9.92 from February 1 next year, the registry said

Registrants will as usual be able to lock-in the current renewal fee of $9.02 for up to 10 years if they renew before the hike kicks in.

It’s the first .net price increase since 2018. The TLD has been stagnating in volume terms for several years, due no doubt in part to behavioral changes following the introduction of new gTLDs starting in late 2013.

The news came as Verisign reported that its domain base shrunk during Q2.

The company ended June with 174.3 million names under management, up 2.2% over a year earlier but down 350,000 domains compared to the end of Q1.

The split was 161.1 million for .com and 13.2 million for .net — that’s a sequential decrease of 200,000 for .com and a decrease of 200,000 for .net. Both rounded, of course.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts tonight that renewals were affected by a great many first-time registrations from China not renewing. General post-pandemic and macro-economic factors also played a role, he said.

The preliminary renewal rate was 75.9% compared to 76.0% a year earlier, but the number of new regs was down to 10.1 million from 11.7 million over the same period.

Verisign reported Q2 revenue up 6.8% on a year ago at $352 million, with net income of $167 million compared to $148 million. Its operating margin swelled to 67.1% percent from 64.7%.

Bidzos told analysts that the company is cutting its registered name growth prediction for the year to between 0.5% and 1.5%, a huge decrease from the already-downgraded estimate of 1.75% and 3.5% it made after the first quarter.

He said that he expects Q3 and Q4 to go much the same way as Q2.

Bidzos said he thinks the current factors affecting regs are a bump in the road and he expects things to stabilize over time.

UPDATE 2148 UTC — The article was updated to correct the comparison of the decrease in .com/.net regs.

Verisign to mandate 2FA for .com registrars

Over 2,000 registrars are likely to be affected by a new Verisign policy making two-factor authentication mandatory when logging into the company’s registrar portal.

ICANN has given the preliminary nod to a Verisign proposal to make 2FA, which has been available on an optional basis for over a decade, mandatory.

Voluntary adoption of the security feature has been light since it was first introduced in 2009. According to Verisign’s Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) only around 200 registrars currently use it.

There were 2,446 active .com registrars at the last count. The RSEP also applies to .net and .name.

The 2FA system requires registrars to enter a one-time password, in addition to their usual credentials, whenever they log in to their accounts.

The change only applies to registrars logging into Verisign’s web site to manage their accounts, not to registrants who have .com domains. It does not apply to under-the-hood EPP transactions.

The company is hoping to implement the change pretty damn quick — its June 30 RSEP states that it will start to give registrars a 30-day noticed period the following day, before ICANN had even formally approved the change.

ICANN approval (pdf) came yesterday, so presumably 2FA will become mandatory in a matter of days.

Surprising nobody, Verisign to raise .com prices again

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign has announced its second consecutive annual price increase for .com domain names.

The wholesale registry fee for .com names will rise from $8.39 to $8.97 on September 1 this year, an extra $0.58 for every new or renewing domain, of which there are currently over 160 million.

Verisign announced the move, which was expected, as it announced a 2021 profit of $785 million and a 65.3% operating margin.

CEO Jim Bidzos, speaking to analysts, played down the impact of the increases on .com registrants, pointing out that .com prices were frozen under the Obama administration and have only gone up once before, last year, since 2012.

“This is the second wholesale price increase for COM since January of 2012,” he said. “So, if you look back over the last 10 years, that translates into a cost increase of only 1.3% CAGR over the last ten and a half years actually.”

The current .com contract, signed off by the Trump administration and ICANN, allows for two more 7% annual price increases, excluding the just-announced one, but Bidzos would not say whether Verisign plans to exercise those options.

If it does (and it almost certainly will) it would raise the price to $10.26, where it would stay until at least October 2026, he said.

“We believe .com continues to be positioned competitively,” he said.

It’s still basically free money for Verisign, which saw strong fourth-quarter and full-year 2021 results.

The company yesterday reported revenue of $1.33 billion for 2021, up 4.9%, with net income of $785 million, down from $815 million. The operating margin was 65.3%, compared to 65.2%.

For the fourth quarter, revenue was up 6.3% to $340 million, with net income of $330 million compared to $157 million. Operating margin was 65.3%, compared to 63.9%.

For 2022, the company is guiding for revenue of between $1.42 billion and $1.44 billion, based on the price increases and predicted unit growth of between 2.5% and 4.5%. The operating margin is expected to be between 64.5% and 65.5%.

Bidzos also addressed the controversial .web gTLD, which it won at auction but has been unable to launch due to legal action pursued by rival bidder Afilias/Altanovo.

An Independent Review Process panel recently threw a decision about .web back at ICANN, which is now considering Afilias’ allegations of wrongdoing at the board level.

“ICANN looks to be moving forward with making the decision on the delegation of .web, and we will be monitoring their process,” Bidzos said. He said that Verisign has not budgeted for any revenue or costs from .web in 2022.

That’s probably wise. Afilias recently told us that it has not stopped fighting against Verisign’s .web win.