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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.

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.

Cahn says .hiphop premiums could show up at auction next month

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2022, Domain Sales

“Premium” .hiphop domains could show up at auction next month, according to RightOfTheDot.

The company is planning a “digital asset auction” for February 24 and boss Monte Cahn said in a press release “you may also see some .hiphop premium reserve names as well as some other premium TLDs.”

Cahn is a partner in Dot Hip Hop, along with JJN Consulting and DigitalAMN, the new company currently battling ICANN bureaucracy for the right to have UNR’s .hiphop registry contract reassigned.

Along with 22 other UNR buyers, DHH is waiting for ICANN approval of its purchase. ICANN is wary and/or confused by UNR’s representations about matching blockchain alt-root TLDs that accompanied the sales.

The company plans to lower the cost of .hiphop names to bring them to a wider audience.

DHH filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN recently, to speed up a process that has so far taken almost six months, but withdrew it when it became clear it had merely triggered another time-consuming bureaucratic process.

ROTD was formed to coordinate gTLD auctions, but is perhaps better known nowadays for selling left-of-the-dot domains, such as at its annual NamesCon conference live auctions.

The company is currently seeking lots for its February 24 auction, including high-value domains and NFTs. The deadline for submissions is February 17.

Monte Cahn revealed as third new gTLD buyer

Kevin Murphy, January 11, 2022, Domain Registries

Domain investor Monte Cahn has revealed himself as the third partner in the controversial acquisition of new gTLD .hiphop from UNR.

Cahn Enterprises named itself alongside already-reported consultant Jeff Neuman of JJN Solutions and publicly traded startup Digital Asset Monetary Network (DigitalAMN) as a partner in newly formed registry vehicle Dot Hip Hop LLC.

DHH bought .hiphop privately from Frank Schilling’s UNR last April at around the same time as UNR auctioned off the other 22 gTLDs in its portfolio, exiting the registry business.

Cahn founded the registrar Moniker, aftermarket pioneer SnapNames and gTLD auction coordinator RightOfTheDot.

RightOfTheDot’s Scott Pruitt has also joined DHH to lead marketing, Cahn’s press release revealed.

The new registry plans to lower the price of .hiphip domains, which currently retail for over $150 a year, as part of an effort to get broader adoption in the hip-hop cultural community.

The company is strongly pushing digital empowerment and “financial literacy” in an “underserved” community as a public benefit of its plans for the TLD.

The problem DHH continues to face is ICANN’s ongoing blocking of the transfer of .hiphop, and the other 22 UNR TLD contracts, due to confusion about the ownership status of matching TLDs on the Ethereum Name Service, a blockchain-based alt-root.

ICANN is fearful of alternative DNS roots which, if they ever gain broad appeal, in theory could break internet interoperability as well as eroding ICANN’s own uniquely powerful and uniquely lucrative authority over the DNS.

DHH’s Neuman recently accused ICANN of foot-dragging and retaliation over the delayed transfers, which is costing the DHH partners money while their legal status is in limbo and they are unable to sell any names.

ICANN’s top brass subsequently denied these accusations, saying the Org is merely following its established (and rather convoluted) appeals procedures.

While these procedures could delay approval of .hiphop’s transfer for another few months, forcing DHH to burn more capital, ICANN said it is “considering the potential impact on the requestor as we have been requested to do”, so it may cut DHH some slack.

ICANN is blocking 23 gTLD transfers over blockchain fears

ICANN is objecting to the transfer of 23 new gTLDs from UNR to an unknown number of third parties, because it’s scared that the associated non-fungible tokens may break the internet and its own authority over it.

The mystery of how UNR’s auction in April of its entire new gTLD portfolio has so far not resulted in a single ICANN Registry Agreement changing hands appears to have been solved.

It’s because UNR bundled each contract sale with a matching top-level “domain name”, in the form of an NFT, on the Ethereum Name Service, an alt-root based on the Ethereum blockchain, and ICANN is worried about what this means for both the long-term interoperability of the DNS and its own ability to act as the internet’s TLD gatekeeper.

This all emerged in an emergency Request for Reconsideration filed by a company called Dot Hip Hop, which bought .hiphop from UNR earlier in the year.

It turns out .hiphop is the TLD alluded to by Digital Asset Monetary Network, which in October became the first to out itself as a UNR buyer while not naming its gTLD. The purchase was made separately from the April auction, despite .hiphop being “mistakenly” listed as one of the lots.

It also turns out that consultant Jeff Neuman, who’s been a leading figure in the ICANN community since its inception, was behind long-time employer Neustar’s application for .biz, and is a big fan of musical theater, is chief legal officer of and a partner in DHH.

In his reconsideration request, Neuman rages against the fact that it had been over 120 days at time of writing since DHH and UNR had applied to have the .hiphop contract reassigned, but that ICANN is continuing to drag its feet despite DHH long ago passing its due diligence review (which Neuman says cost an excessive $17,000).

DigitalAMN lists DHH as a subsidiary in its recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company is publicly listed but essentially pre-revenue, making its ability to start selling domain names rather quickly rather important.

ICANN has repeatedly delayed approval of the reassignment, provided no visibility into when approval will come, and has repeatedly asked the same questions — largely related to the NFTs — with only slight rewording, Neuman says:

ICANN Org has already communicated to DHH that it has already met all of the criteria required under the Registry Agreement. Yet still, ICANN is withholding consent based on its mere curiosity about the former owner of the .hiphop, TLD (UNR Co), and based on the questions that ICANN keeps re-asking, has presumably conjured up non-issues that: (a) have already been addressed by DHH on multiple occasions over the past 123 days, (b) are beyond the scope of ICANN’s mission, and (c) are philosophical, fictional and frankly do not exist in this matter.

The ENS NFT is a “de minimus” component of the transaction that DHH didn’t even know about until after it had already decided to buy .hiphop, the request states, and ICANN has no authority over the blockchain so the existence of an NFT is not a valid reason to deny the reassignment.

I think I also detect a race card being played here. The RfR spends a bit of time talking about how ICANN’s foot-dragging is making the Org look bad to “traditionally underserved communities where the Hip Hop culture has thrived, globally”.

Apparently referring to DigitalAMN, the RfR states:

In addition to such partner being established at the birthplace of Hip Hop (Bronx New York), by its founder who shares the same birthdate as Hip Hop (August 11th), its mission is to provide financial literacy and economic opportunities for those communities and cultures that are traditionally under-represented, under-funded and under-valued.

DigitalAMN is majority-owned and led by Ajene Watson, who is black. One of company’s stated goals is to connect early stage companies with capital from non-traditional investors (not just the “privileged few”) using non-traditional means.

The RfR goes on to say:

The most dominantly underserved, under-funded and under-valued communities, are also those that embrace and are part of the Hip Hop culture. This Partner has embraced what seemed to be an opportunity to provide domain name registration services to a culture that knows nothing of ICANN, nor the domain name industry. Now, its first impression of the ICANN community is unnecessary delay, a lack of transparency, and bureaucratic indecision—just another gatekeeper to prevent equitable access. In their eyes, they consistently see deadlines that are never met (by ICANN), a lack of information as to why their launch is being held up, and an entity (ICANN) that takes weeks/months to act on anything with no end in sight. In their view, it would appear that ICANN, as an organization, cares nothing about serving the public interest, or about the impact of its actions (or in this case inactions) on the undervalued communities this Partner aims to support.

It should be noted that 22 other unrelated UNR gTLD reassignments are also in limbo, so it’s not like ICANN has a problem in particular with hip-hop music or those who enjoy it.

ICANN, in its response to the RfR, lays all the blame with UNR for, it says, refusing to provide “fulsome and complete” answers to its questions about the NFTs. In a December 10 letter to Neuman, ICANN VP Russ Weinstein wrote:

Significant questions remain, including regarding the role and rights conveyed to the proposed assignees related to the NFTs created on the ENS. For these reasons, ICANN must continue to object to and withhold its consent to all pending Assignments proposed by UNR, including yours.

The RfR was denied by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee on a technicality. DHH had filed an “emergency” request based on ICANN’s staff inaction, but emergency requests only apply to board action or inaction.

Neuman appears to have known this in advance. It appears DHH just wanted to get something in the public record about the state of play with UNR’s gTLDs.

ICANN seems to have two problems with the NFTs, and they’re both big, existential ones.

First, ENS is essentially an alt-root, and when you have competing roots there’s the risk of TLDs colliding — two or more registries claiming authority for the same TLD — breaking the global interoperability of the internet.

Second, but related, the existence of alt-roots threatens ICANN’s authority.

ICANN has no authority over ENS or the NFT names that live on it, so for a registry to run a TLD in the both the authoritative ICANN root and the alt-root of the ENS could cause problems down the road.

While NFTs can be “owned”, gTLDs are not. UNR is merely the party ICANN has contracted with to run .hiphop. While UNR and any subsequent assignees have a presumptive right of renewal, it’s possible for ICANN to terminate the contract and hand stewardship of the gTLD to another registry. It’s not merely a hypothetical scenario.

Should that ever happen with .hiphop, ICANN wouldn’t have the authority to seize the ENS NFT, meaning the old registry could carry on running .hiphop in the ENS while the new registry runs it in the ICANN root, again breaking global DNS interoperability.

You could spin it either way — either ICANN is worried about interoperability, or it’s worried about protecting its own power. These are not mutually exclusive, and are both probably true.

One thing’s the sure, however — in roadblocking these gTLD transfers, ICANN is playing into the hands of critics and blockchain fanboys who argue for decentralized control of naming, with ICANN as their bogeyman.

After price hike, now Tucows drops support for Uniregistry TLDs

Tucows is to drop OpenSRS support for nine Uniregistry gTLDs after the registry announced severe price increases.
The registrar told OpenSRS resellers that it will no longer support .audio, .juegos, .diet, .hiphop, .flowers, .guitars, .hosting, .property and .blackfriday from September 8, the date the increases kick in.
It’s the second major registrar, after GoDaddy, to drop support for Uniregistry TLDs in the wake of the pricing news.
“The decision to discontinue support for these select TLDs was made to protect you and your customers from unknowingly overpaying in a price range well beyond $100 per year,” OpenSRS told its resellers.
It will continue to support seven other Uniregistry gTLDs, including .click and .link, which are seeing more modest price increases and will remain at $50 and under.
While Tucows is a top 10 registrar in most affected TLDs, its domains under management across the nine appears to be under 3,000.
These domains will expire at their scheduled expiry date and OpenSRS will not allow their renewal after the September 8 cut-off. Customers will be able to renew at current prices for one to 10 years, however.
Tucows encouraged its roughly 40,000 resellers to offer to migrate their customers to other TLDs.
Uniregistry revealed its price increases in March, saying moving to a premium-pricing model was necessary to make the gTLDs profitable given the lack of volume.
Pricing for .juegos and .hosting is to go up from under $20 retail to $300. The other seven affected gTLDs will increase from the $10 to $25 range to $100 per year.
After GoDaddy pulled support for Uniregistry TLDs, the registry modified its plan to enable all existing registrations to renew at current prices.
That clearly was not enough for Tucows, which has sent a pretty clear message that it’s not prepared to be the public face of such significant price hikes.