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Omicron domain sells for $5,000

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2021, Domain Sales

The domain name omicronvariant.com, hand-registered less than six months ago, has sold for $5,000 via Sedo, raising all kinds of questions about the value and future of Covid-19 variant-related domains.

The domain, at time of writing, resolves to a Sedo parking page containing ads unrelated (for me) to the pandemic or healthcare.

It was registered in early June, just a day or two after the World Health Organization announced that it would start naming coronavirus variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.

At that time, and to this day, the delta variant is the dominant strain worldwide, and yet deltavariant.com is currently listed for sale for $2,000 at GoDaddy/Uniregistry.

It seems somebody out there is willing to bet that omicron will have the transmissibility speed and longevity to outstrip delta, become dominant, and make dropping $5,000 on the matching .com a wise investment.

Assuming non-nefarious use, I personally struggle to see the end-user value.

It appears that any .com combination of a Greek letter and the word “variant” that had not already been registered by June was quickly snapped up by speculators after WHO revealed its naming scheme.

Some domains, such as alphavariant.com and xivariant.com, were already in use by companies with web sites that predate the pandemic.

The company Nu Variant seems to have dodged a bullet — WHO skipped that letter because it’s a confusing homophone of “new” in some English dialects. It also skipped xi, as it’s a common name that happens to be shared by the premier of China, which was bad luck for the xivariant.com domainer.

All the other letters between delta and omicron have been assigned to variants that fizzled out or have failed to garner much media attention.

At this point, it seems quite possible that WHO will run out of Greek letters in a matter of months, but it reportedly has no current plan for its coronavirus nomenclature after that.

Hamburg to have second crack at hosting ICANN meeting

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2021, Domain Policy

The City of Hamburg is to try again to bring in the ICANN crowd, after getting cancelled due to the pandemic last year.

German ccTLD registry DENIC, along with the city and local trade group eco, is taking a run at being selected as the host for ICANN 78, currently penciled in for October 2023, the company said this week.

It had been picked to host ICANN 69 in October 2020, but pandemic travel restrictions scuppered that opportunity.

The last six public ICANN meetings have been online-only, as will next March’s ICANN 73, which had been due to take place in Puerto Rico.

Hamburg’s chances would have to be said to be strong. Three other cancelled host cities — Kuala Lumpur, The Hague and Cancun — have already been confirmed for meetings in 2022 and 2023.

Of course, the ultimate decision-maker is a nucleic acid molecule wearing a spiky protein coat.

ICANN budget: mild optimism amid maturing industry

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN thinks the domain industry, including the new gTLD industry, is maturing and will continue to grow, in its just-published draft budget for fiscal 2023.

The Org is predicting growing transactions across the board, as well as an increase in the number of accredited registrars and a slowing decline in the number of contracted gTLDs.

ICANN is expecting funding of $152 million for FY23, which includes the $4 million bung it negotiated with Verisign as part of the deal to allow the company to raise .com prices.

That’s up from the $149.1 million is expects to receive in the current fiscal year.

As usual, the bulk of the funding comes from gTLD transaction fees — the taxes registrants pay through their registrars and registries whenever they register, renew or transfer a domain name.

Legacy gTLD transaction fees are expected to amount to $93.1 million, up 3% on a forecast of $90.1 million in the current year, while new gTLD transaction fees are expected to rise modestly from $9.5 million to $9.9 million, a 4% increase.

Transactions in legacy gTLDs are expected to be 201.2 million, versus 193.6 million in the current year.

New, post-2012 gTLDs are expected to process 25.8 million transactions, up from 24.8 million, of which 21.1 million will be billable, up from 20.3 million. New gTLDs only pay transaction fees after 50,000 domains under management.

ICANN is expecting to lose four registries in FY23 — this almost always means dot-brands that cancel their contracts — with the total declining from a June 2022 total of 1,149 to 1,145 a year later. This will have a modest impact on fixed registry fees.

But the Org is once again expecting to see an increase in the number of registrars paying fixed accreditation fees, up by 28 to 2,447 at the end of FY23.

Accompanying the budget, ICANN has published some industry trend analysis (pdf) outlining some of the assumptions behind the budget forecasts.

Basically, the document describes what regular readers already know — many domain companies benefited from pandemic-related lockdowns driving small businesses online, but overall industry volumes were driven down by low-cost new gTLDs experiencing huge junk drops.

For ICANN’s purposes, factors such as customer quality and pricing are irrelevant. A spammer registering 1,000 domains in bulk pays ICANN the same amount in fees as 1,000 small businesses building their first web sites.

The document reads:

Taken as a whole, DUMs failed to expand in the past twelve months ending in mid-2021. While this decline is at least partly attributable to lower promotional activity among some of the largest new gTLDs which could be reinitiated in the future, it nonetheless points to an industry that has shifted from a period of rapid expansion to one that is now witnessing steady maturation.

The draft ICANN budget covers the 12 months beginning July 1, 2023, and is now open for public comment before possible revisions and final approval.

Delta variant cranks up Aussie domain regs in Q3

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

Australia’s ccTLD had a growth spurt in the third quarter, driven by pandemic lockdown rules.

Local registry auDA today reported that it took 171,846 new domain creates in Q3, up 22% on Q2. There were over 60,500 new regs in July, making it .au’s second-biggest sales month of all time.

auDA said in its quarterly report (pdf):

This increase took place at a time when COVID-19 restrictions were re-introduced in several states, and followed a levelling out of demand and seasonal dip over Easter in Q2. However, Q3 registrations are only slightly below the same period in 2020, which experienced a historic peak in new domain names created, driven by COVID-19.

Such lockdown bumps were experienced by many registries in 2020, as bricks-and-mortar businesses rushed to get an online presence to continue functioning while stores and venues were closed.

The delta variant of Covid-19 started worrying Australia in June, leading to lockdown rules in major cities that lasted most or all of July. The country has had a relatively low incidence of the virus, but has taken a hard line on restrictions.

At the end of September, .au registrations were up 5% at 3,386,186 names, auDA said. The .com.au level names were up 6% but .net.au was down 1.5%.

Next March, Australia will follow in the footsteps of some other ccTLDs and make second-level .au domains available for the first time.

Three ICANN directors wanted to go to Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2021, Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors’ decision to scrap the in-person component of its next public meeting was not unanimous, it has emerged.

Three directors voted against the November 4 resolution, which said ICANN 73 would be ICANN’s seventh consecutive online-only gathering, according the a preliminary board report.

The plan for months was to have a “hybrid” meeting, with some face-to-face component at the convention center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as an intermediate step towards post-pandemic normality.

But at the time of the vote travel restrictions in the US were such that getting to Puerto Rico was tough even for fellow Americans, so ICANN’s meetings team had not been able to do on-site preparation.

Nine directors voted to make 73 virtual, with four absent during the vote, the preliminary report states.

Five directors have taken their seats since the coronavirus pandemic began, and have therefore never officially met with their board colleagues in person.

It’s not the first time the board has been split on this matter. Last year, directors Ron Da Silva and Ihab Osman voted to return to face-to-face for the October 2020 Hamburg meeting.

Da Silva is no longer on the board, but there are at least two other directors among the current line-up on the same page.

The voting breakdown will not be revealed until the board approves the November 4 minutes, which could be months if history is any guide.

ICANN abandons face-to-face plan for Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has canceled its plans for a “hybrid” ICANN 73, saying this morning that the meeting will go ahead as an online-only virtual meeting.

Its board of directors yesterday voted to abandon efforts to have a face-to-face component in Puerto Rico as originally planned, as I predicted a few days ago.

ICANN of course said it’s because of the coronavirus pandemic, and more particularly the associated travel restrictions and the lack of access to vaccines in some parts of the world from which its community members hail.

The US Centers for Disease Control currently rates Puerto Rico as its second-highest risk level, meaning ICANN’s meetings staff have been unable to travel there to do on-site planning. ICANN said:

While there has been progress that might make it feasible to plan for and convene a meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March 2022, the current risks and uncertainties remain too high to proceed with an in-person meeting or with an in-person component.

Its board resolution stated:

Between the global inequity in vaccine availability across the world, continuing restrictions on persons from many countries or territories being allowed to enter the U.S., and backlogs in visa processing for those who are able to enter the U.S., ICANN org cannot estimate with any confidence the ability for attendees outside of the U.S. to attend ICANN73.

So 73 will be Zoom again. The time zone will remain UTC-4, Puerto Rico local time, which should make it less problematic for Europeans to attend.

The dates are still slated for March 5 to March 10 next year, but it seems likely that we’ll be looking at a March 7 kick-off, as March 5 is a Saturday and people don’t like working weekends if not somewhere they can also work on their tans.

ICANN said it “affirmed its intent” to attempt the hybrid model again for the mid-year ICANN 74 meeting, which is due to take place in The Hague, Netherlands, next June.

It’s bad news for ICANN participation, which has been declining in the new era of virtual meetings, but good news for its bank account. Virtual meetings cost a few million dollars less than in-person ones.

Marby finds his pandemic pessimism

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2021, Domain Policy

CEO Göran Marby has spelled out his goals for ICANN’s current fiscal year, and they include a scaled-back ambition when it comes to face-to-face public meetings in the face of an ongoing pandemic.

His first enumerated goal for the year ending June 30, 2022 is:

Develop, with the community and with support from the Board, the ability to conduct hybrid meetings that are inclusive and enhance the opportunity for community interaction and decision-making.

Compare this with his equivalent goal from July 2020:

Work with Supporting Organization and Advisory Committee leaders, community members, and the Board to define and implement a phased plan to return to face-to-face meetings.

The goal of creating a “face-to-face” meetings plan has been replace with a “hybrid” meeting plan, where some section of the community can only participate online, depending on travel restrictions.

A lot has happened in the last 15 months when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.

In June 2020, there was still some optimism in the ICANN board that the October meeting that year would go ahead in Hamburg as normal. That didn’t happen, and the face-to-face components of the three subsequent meetings have also been cancelled.

At that time, the world still hadn’t experienced the reality of Covid-19 variants, and the possibility of multiple lockdown scenarios was still largely theoretical.

So it’s probably no surprise that Marby has been forced to rein in his hopes for bumping elbows with the global community any time soon.

ICANN 72 later this month, originally planned for Seattle, will be the sixth consecutive online-only public meeting, but Marby has been tasked by the board with making the Puerto Rico meeting next March a “hybrid” affair.

Given his goals run to mid-2022, it seems possible ICANN 74, slated for The Hague next June, is also being considered most likely a hybrid meeting.

Marby has nine goals for the year in total. Seven he wrote himself, two were set by the board. Last year, he had 10 in total of which four were set by the board.

Other areas of interest coming from his own pen include greater focus on legislation around the world, emerging technologies such as blockchain naming, outreach in the developing world, DNS security and stability and prioritizing ICANN’s increasingly overwhelming workload.

Not all of them are stated as goals, at least in Marby’s blog post, and not all appear to have measurable outcomes.

The board has told him to “stimulate Universal Acceptance” and “work with Internet governance stakeholders”. Again, it’s all pretty amorphous stuff.

One 2021 goal that does not make an appearance this year is “Develop a plan for the potential economist function”, or hiring an “astrologer in chief” as I phrased it last year.

Reasonable people could disagree with whether this one was fulfilled — the economist job has been advertised on the ICANN web site all year, but does not yet appear to have been filled.

ICANN now has half a billion bucks in the bank after huge pandemic profits

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN, the non-profit organization with the limited technical mandate, now has over half a billion dollars in the bank, after the affects of the coronavirus pandemic boosted funding and slashed costs.

The Org ended June 2021 with cash and investments of $521 million, up $40 million over the preceding 12 months.

While some of this gain can be attributed to investment gains, the majority chunk comes from ICANN largely misjudging the length and impact of pandemic-related restrictions.

Expenses were $10 million lower than budget, because all three ICANN meetings during the year were held online, where they cost about half a million bucks a pop, about $3 million lower than in-person gatherings.

ICANN had budgeted for its 2021 meetings to take place face-to-face in venues around the world, but governmental travel restrictions made this impossible.

The Org saved well over half a million dollars in director expenses alone.

On the top half of the financial statement, the numbers also show a failure to predict how much the pandemic would be generally a boon, rather than a burden, to the domain name industry.

ICANN received $142 million in funding during the year, which was $12 million ahead of budget and $1 million more than it received in fiscal 2020.

ICANN cuts the weekend from next public meeting

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has changed the dates for ICANN 72, its 2021 annual general meeting, making it two days shorter.

The old plan was for the meeting to run October 23-28. Now it will be October 25-28.

Basically, this means nobody will have to work at the weekend. October 23 is a Saturday.

The presumably truncated schedule will be published October 4.

ICANN said it made the decision “to support better working hours for attendees and encourage greater participation”.

ICANN 72 came close to having an in-person component in Seattle, but the board of directors decided last month to stick to Zoom due to ongoing pandemic uncertainties.

Over 2,000 attendees for ICANN 73?

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2021, Domain Policy

Puerto Rico is expecting as many as 2,100 people to show up to ICANN’s public meeting there next year, according to a local report.

A local business publication, NimB, cites Pablo Rodríguez of NIC.pr as saying ICANN 73 could have about 2,100 attendees, bringing as much as $8 million to $10 million to the San Juan economy.

My first thought was that the dollar figure seemed high — it works out to about $5,000 per head — until I realized that most attendees are funded by either ICANN or their company credit cards, and not everyone is as frugal as yours truly.

But then I realized that 2,100 is by far the more surprising number.

Consider that it’s by no means assured that there will be an in-person component to the meeting at all. ICANN is certainly planning for one, but like everyone else the Org is subject to the whims of a microscopic glob of goo.

The plan is for a “hybrid”, a mix of face-to-face and Zoom, with some recognition that there are some parts of the world that will show up with extremely light delegations.

Consider also that the last time ICANN met in San Juan in March, just a couple years ago, the grand total was 1,564 people, 37% of whom hailed from outside the Americas.

With that in mind, 2,100 seems like an incredibly ambitious prediction.