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INCO flips a gTLD to Identity Digital

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2024, Domain Registries

Internet Naming Co has sold one of its gTLDs to Identity Digital, barely a year after taking it from UNR.

The Registry Agreement for .juegos — Spanish for “games” — was assigned to ID subsidiary Dog Beach in early December, according to ICANN records.

ID already runs the English-language .games, while XYZ runs the singular .game. There is no singular gTLD in the Spanish.

.juegos in volume terms has been a disappointment. Originally with UNR predecessor Uniregistry, it peaked at 2,353 domains under management in 2016, when names were priced at around $20 a year.

But the gTLD was affected by Uniregistry’s decision to massively increase prices to compensate for weak volume in 2017, which caused some of the leading registrars to drop the TLDs from their storefront.

To this day, GoDaddy still does not carry .juegos, but Tucows seems to have started selling it again, at an eye-watering $500 a year. Wholesale pricing is believed to be $300 a year. Namecheap sells it for $368 a year.

.juegos had 649 domains under management at the last count. The largest registrar in Entorno, which unsurprisingly based in Spain.

INCO took over .juegos, along with a bunch of other former Uniregistry gTLDs, in late 2022.

It will be interesting to see if ID reduces prices to match .games, which is believed to wholesale at $20 a year.

Five more gTLDs get launch dates

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2024, Domain Registries

Internet Naming Co has revealed the launch dates for the five dormant gTLDs it acquired late last year.

The company plans to go to Sunrise with .diy, .food, .lifestyle, .living, and .vana on January 24, according to ICANN records.

Before general availability on March 6, there’ll be a week-long Early Access Period, with prices starting at $25,000 wholesale and decreasing daily to settle at GA prices.

Unusually, and I think uniquely, there’s also going to be a 24-hour “Customer Loyalty Period” on February 28/29, which has the same prices as day one of EAP.

INCO CEO Shayan Rostam told me this period “gives us the opportunity to provision domains to certain existing customers or partners after sunrise but before GA.” He described it as a “1-day pioneer program phase for the registry.”

The five gTLDs were bought from Lifestyle Domain Holdings last year, as the would-be registry carried on dumping or selling off its portfolio of long-unused gTLDs.

.vana was a brand, but INCO plans to use it to do something as-yet-unrevealed related to blockchain naming systems. .diy refers to “Do It Yourself”, the practice of carrying out home improvements or repairs without hiring professional experts.

All of the five will be unrestricted. They’ve all been moved to the Tucows back-end registry service provider.

$10 million of ICANN cash up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN has officially launched its Grant Program, making $10 million available to not-for-profit projects this year.

The Org expects to start accepting applications for between $50,000 and $500,000 between March 25 and May 24 and start handing out the cash early next year.

It’s the first phase of a program that currently sees ICANN sitting on a distributable cash pile of $217 million that it raised by auctioning off contested new gTLD registry contracts under the 2012 gTLD application round.

The money is only available to registered charities that in some way support ICANN’s mission in terms of developing internet interoperability or capacity building.

Organizations worldwide will be able to apply, but it seems unlikely anyone from a country currently subject to US government sanctions will be successful. Conflicted organizations — such as those led by somebody involved with the program — are also barred.

Applications for grants will be assessed by ICANN staff, a yet-to-be-named Independent Application Assessment Panel comprising “a diverse collective of subject matter experts”, and ultimately the ICANN board of directors.

More information and the application form can be found here.

ICANN threatens to regulate your speech [RANT]

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN wants to know if it’s okay if it regulates your speech, even when you’re not doing ICANN stuff.

Acting CEO Sally Costerton has floated the idea of extending ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior into things people say in their everyday lives.

The notion came up in ICANN’s response (pdf) to consultant Jeff Neuman, who recently complained to the Org about a TV interview given by Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, a prominent member of the intellectual property community in the Middle-East.

In the interview on Jordanian TV last October, Abu-Ghazaleh made some outrageously anti-Semitic remarks and appeared to suggest the Holocaust was a good thing.

His TAG-Org business has at least three ties to ICANN. It’s an accredited registrar, it’s involved in an approved UDRP provider, and it hosts an instance of ICANN’s L-root DNS root server.

Neuman said that ICANN should not associate with racists and should remove TAG-Org’s L-root instance and relocate it to another organization in Jordan or elsewhere the Middle-East.

It took a few months to get a response, but now Costerton has written back to Neuman “to make it absolutely clear that hate speech has no place in ICANN’s multistakeholder process”:

She said that ICANN has “reached out directly to inform Talal Abu Ghazaleh and TAG-Org that their hate speech violates ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior” and “referred this matter to the Office of the Ombuds to investigate and make further recommendations.”

Costerton concludes:

Although your letters are specifically about TAG-Org, they also point to a larger question that has not yet been addressed by the ICANN community. Specifically what role, if any, should ICANN have in addressing egregious conduct that violates the Expected Standards of Behavior to the extent that it could cause significant reputational harm to ICANN and the multistakeholder model if left unaddressed? This is an area for which there is currently no policy or community guidance. In its absence, it is difficult to know how to weigh potentially competing issues. For example, your letters reference free speech questions. This incident has made it clear that as a community we need to discuss this further in the coming weeks and months.

This brief reference to the “free speech” implications of taking action may be a clue that ICANN is actually just trying to preemptively weasel out of actually doing anything about TAG-Org. Neuman seems to think that’s a possibility.

But let’s take Costerton’s letter at face value. ICANN is now talking about extending its Expected Standards of Behavior to things people say when they’re not doing ICANN community stuff.

The ESB is ICANN’s take on codified politeness, banning all the -isms and -phobias from ICANN community conduct. It’s supplemented by the Community Anti-Harassment Policy, which is referenced in Costerton’s letter (pdf) to TAG-Org and which among many other things bans swearing.

Participants are reminded of applicability of these policies whenever they walk into an ICANN conference center or log in to a Zoom call.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is where it should begin and end — when you’re in an ICANN meeting or participating on a mailing list, play nice. ICANN’s house, ICANN’s rules.

Abu-Ghazaleh spouted some pretty incredibly racist stuff, but he did so in a media appearance. He wasn’t on TV to discuss ICANN, or domain names, or intellectual property. He was talking about the attacks in Israel and Gaza.

ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior have no jurisdiction over Jordanian TV. Or, indeed, any news media.

ICANN as a private organization would of course be well within its rights to just unilaterally remove the Amman L-root. It refuses to take money from alt-roots. It refuses to work with convicted pirates. Surely refusing to work with a Holocaust supporter isn’t too much of a stretch.

But the idea that ICANN’s rules on personal conduct should extend outside the grey, windowless walls of an ICANN convention center, or that ICANN employees should be the judges of whether something is or isn’t offensive… nah.

Remember, a lot of these people are Californians.

Life insurance company kills dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2023, Domain Registries

An American life insurance company’s gTLD has become the 25th dot-brand to be abandoned in 2023.

The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America has asked ICANN to cancel its contract to run .guardian, which it has barely used.

The company had been running a newsletter at connect.guardian but interest in that seems to have dried up around 2020. No other .guardian domains had been registered.

It had been in a bit of a scuffle with UK newspaper publisher Guardian News and Media, which also applied for .guardian, during the application process.

The publisher settled for .theguardian instead, but abandoned that post-delegation in 2016, after selling sister newspaper brand .observer to Identity Digital.

Assuming the termination is not withdrawn, it will leave ICANN with 375 contracted dot-brands, from its initial total of 494.

ICANN begs people to use its new Whois service

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2023, Uncategorized

ICANN’s CEO has published an open letter encouraging the community to spread the word about its new Registration Data Request Service.

Sally Costerton explained (pdf) that RDRS is a “free, global, one-stop shop ticketing system” that hooks up people seeking private Whois data with the relevant registrar.

“I appreciate your attention to this new service and ask that you share this information with the relevant stakeholders in your organization,” she concludes.

The plea comes after the late-November launch of the system and the revelation that the system currently has far from blanket coverage from registrars.

“Use of the RDRS is voluntary, but I’m pleased to let you know that we have strong participation from registrars already,” Costerton wrote.

Since I published a blog post three weeks ago naming 25 large registrars not participating in RDRS, only Markmonitor has chosen to sign up, adding another one million domains to RDRS’s footprint.

But it turns out Chinese registrar Alibaba, which I was unable to check due to a bug or downtime somewhere, definitely is not participating, so there are still 25 out of the 40 registrars with over a million domains that are not participating.

Usage on the demand side is not known, but ICANN says it will publish regular monthly progress reports.

The RDRS is considered a pilot. It will run for at least two years before ICANN figures out whether it’s worth keeping.

Shiba Inu outs itself as crypto new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2023, Domain Registries

Shib, the developer behind the Shiba Inu cryptocurrency, said today that it plans to apply to ICANN for the .shib top-level domain.

The idea is to have the domain in the consensus DNS root and also in a blockchain and to make the two interoperable.

The company has partnered with D3 Global, the startup launched in September by industry veterans Fred Hsu, Paul Stahura and Shayan Rostam, to work on the application and interoperability platform.

Shib seems to be the second customer for D3. It’s also working with a blockchain company called Viction on .vic.

Perhaps erring on the side of responsibility, D3 is using an asterisk instead of a dot when offering names prior to ICANN approval, so it’s *shib and *vic instead of .shib and .vic.

The next ICANN application round is not expected to open until early-to-mid-2026.

Amazon planning new push into registrar market?

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2023, Domain Registrars

Amazon has kept a pretty low profile to date both as a registry and registrar, but there are reasons to believe it’s on the verge of becoming a more visible player in the market.

The e-commerce and web services giant has secured a second ICANN registrar accreditation and appears to be readying a new domain-focused web site.

The subsidiary Amazon Domain Registrar US LLC picked up its accreditation this week, and its official web site domain is domains.amazon, which was registered November 29.

The domain does not currently resolve from where I’m sitting.

Amazon already uses the dot-brand domain registry.amazon for its 50-odd new gTLDs, almost all of which remain unlaunched.

In the registrar market, Amazon’s subsidiary Amazon Registrar Inc has been accredited for well over a decade and has been taking registrations since 2015 as part of its Route 53 managed DNS service.

It’s not a conventional registrar storefront by any stretch — registrations seem to be available only via the management console used by existing Route 53 customers — but it has amassed over 1.3 million gTLD registrations so far.

So could domains.amazon become the newest player in the retail registrar market? Smaller registrars that cheered the exit of the Google brand from the registrar space may soon have a new big boy to contend with.

Registries and registrars vote ‘Yes’ to new DNS abuse rules

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2023, Domain Registrars

ICANN’s contracted registries and registrars have voted to accept new rules requiring them to take action on DNS abuse.

The new rules come after a vote lasting a few months with some quite high thresholds for success.

The current Registrar Accreditation Agreement merely requires registrars to “take reasonable and prompt steps to investigate and respond appropriately to any reports of abuse”, which is pretty vague and barely enforceable.

The amendments, which still need to be rubber-stamped by the ICANN board, make it much clearer what registrars are expected to do in which circumstances. A new paragraph is added that reads:

3.18.2 When Registrar has actionable evidence that a Registered Name sponsored by Registrar is being used for DNS Abuse, Registrar must promptly take the appropriate mitigation action(s) that are reasonably necessary to stop, or otherwise disrupt, the Registered Name from being used for DNS Abuse. Action(s) may vary depending on the circumstances, taking into account the cause and severity of the harm from the DNS Abuse and the possibility of associated collateral damage.

For registries, the new text for the base gTLD Registry Agreement is similar, but with a little more wiggle-room:

Where a Registry Operator reasonably determines, based on actionable evidence, that a registered domain name in the TLD is being used for DNS Abuse, Registry Operator must promptly take the appropriate mitigation action(s) that are reasonably necessary to contribute to stopping, or otherwise disrupting, the domain name from being used for DNS Abuse. Such action(s) shall, at a minimum, include: (i)the referral of the domains being used for the DNS Abuse, along with relevant evidence, to the sponsoring registrar; or (ii) the taking of direct action, by the Registry Operator, where the Registry Operator deems appropriate. Action(s) may vary depending on the circumstances of each case, taking into account the severity of the harm from the DNS Abuse and the possibility of associated collateral damage.

In both cases, DNS abuse is defined by the now industry standard line: “malware, botnets, phishing, pharming, and spam (when spam serves as a delivery mechanism for the other forms of DNS Abuse listed in this Section)”.

There are a few other quality of life updates, such as the requirement for registrars to acknowledge receipt of abuse reports and to have their abuse reporting mechanism “conspicuously and readily accessible from” their home pages.

ICANN needed registrars representing over 90% of registered gTLD domains (adjusted slightly to make GoDaddy’s voice less powerful). That threshold was passed last week, with 94% of domains voting in favor of the amendments.

For registries, ICANN required a simple majority of registries (counted by contract rather than company) and for all registries voting in favor to have been responsible for two thirds of all registry fees paid last year.

Judging by the financial thresholds, .com and .net, which are not on the base RA, were not involved.

ICANN predicts flattish 2025 for domain industry

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2023, Domain Policy

The gTLD domain industry will be pretty much flat in terms of sales next year, according to the predictions in ICANN’s latest budget.

The bean counters reckon the Org will make $89 million from transactions in legacy gTLDs (mainly .com) in its fiscal 2025, up from the $88.9 million it expects to make in fiscal 2024, which ends next June 30.

Meanwhile, it expects transactions in new gTLDs to bring in $10.1 million, up from the $9.9 million it expects in FY24.

Both of the updated FY24 estimates are actually a bit ahead of ICANN’s current budget, written in April and approved in May, which predicted $87.1 million from legacy and $9.2 million from new.

ICANN expects to lose 22 registries (presumably unused dot-brands, of which there are still plenty, with a couple hundred contracts up for renewal in 2025) and gain 40 new registrars.

This will lead to revenue from registry fixed fees to dip to $27.6 million from a predicted $28.1 million, and registrar fixed fees going up from $10.4 million from a predicted $10.1 million.

The FY24 registrar numbers are a little healthier than ICANN predicted back in April, when it expected 2,447 accredited registrars at the end of the financial year versus the 2,575 it’s expecting now. Gname’s decision to buy 150 new accreditations will have played a big role in moving this number up. ICANN expects 2,615 registrars at the end of FY25.

But ICANN is losing registries faster than it predicted back in April. Then, it had expected to end FY24 with 1,127 registries; now it thinks it will have 1,118. It expects that to drop to 1,089 by the end of June 2025.

Overall, ICANN is budgeting for funding of $148 million and the same level of expenses in FY25, the same as FY24.