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After 10 months, ICANN board “promptly” publishes its own minutes

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has approved a huge batch of its own meeting minutes, covering the period from July 15 last year to March 10 this year, raising questions about its commitment to timely transparency.

The board approved the minutes of its last 14 full-board meetings in one huge batch of 14 separate resolutions at its May 12 meeting, and they’ve all now been published on the ICANN web site, along with redacted briefing papers for said meetings.

The period includes decisions on planning for the next new gTLD round and Whois reform, the legal fight with Afilias over the contested .web gTLD, and apparently divisive discussions about the timing of a post-pandemic return to face-to-face meetings.

No explanation has been given for why it’s taken so long for these documents to appear, the timing of which appears to go against ICANN’s bylaws, which state that minutes are supposed to be approved and published “promptly”:

All minutes of meetings of the Board, the Advisory Committees and Supporting Organizations (and any councils thereof) shall be approved promptly by the originating body and provided to the ICANN Secretary (“Secretary”) for posting on the Website.

ICANN almost always published its board’s resolutions within a few days of approval, and a preliminary report — which also includes the number of votes yay or nay, without naming the directors — within a couple of weeks.

The minutes, which are published only after the board rubber-stamps them, typically include a further vote breakdown and a little bit of color on how the discussion went down.

In the newly published batch, some of the documents are somewhat illuminating, while others barely nudge the dimmer switch.

For example, the preliminary report for the July 15, 2021 meeting, published 11 days later, notes that three of the 16 voting directors rebelled on a resolution about making the October annual general meeting in Seattle a virtual-only event, but the just-published minutes name those directors and flesh out some of their reasons for dissenting.

It turns out the directors had a “robust discussion”, with some arguing that it would be safe to go ahead with a “hybrid” meeting comprising both face-to-face and remote participation options.

The dissenting directors were Ron da Silva, Avri Doria, and Ihab Osman, it turns out. Osman and da Silva had voted a similar way a year earlier.

Directors could not reasonably have been expected to know about the impact the Delta variant of Covid-19 would have on world health in the latter half of the year. It had been identified and named by scientists but had yet to spread to the extent it was making headlines.

But they were aware of concerns from the Asia-Pacific members of the community, worried that a hybrid meeting in Seattle would disadvantage those unable to attend due to pandemic travel restrictions. This appears to have been raised during the discussion:

Some Board members expressed desire to see more work done to have ICANN72 as a hybrid meeting. They noted that Seattle has protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of ICANN staff and the community, and ICANN should use this opportunity to begin to return to its normal meeting standards as much as possible. Others noted that the concerns about travel inequities or restrictions for certain parts of the world should not prevent moving forward with an in-person component for ICANN72 because such inequities and restrictions exist with or without the pandemic.

The return to in-person meetings was discussed again in November, when the board decided to junk plans, secured by the dissenting directors in July, for a hybrid meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Ron da Silva had left the board by this point, but the new minutes show that Doria and Osman were joined by León Sánchez in advocating for a hybrid meeting with an in-person component.

While the July minutes contains a few paragraphs summarizing discussions, the November minutes simply notes that the board “reviewed the proposed resolution and rationale to confirm that it reflects the Board’s discussion and edits”.

And that’s pretty typical for most of the documents published this week — time and again the substantive discussion appears to have either happened off-camera, during non-minuted sessions of the board at unspecified times, or was simply not minuted.

Interested in the talks leading to the approval of the new gTLDs Operational Design Phase? The minutes shed no light.

Interested in how the board reacted to ICANN losing its Independent Review Process case with Afilias about .web? The minutes merely note that the resolution was approved “after discussion”.

There’s also a glaring hole in one set of minutes, raising questions about whether these documents are a reliable record of what happened at all.

We know for a fact that on September 12 the ICANN board approved a resolution naming the new chair and vice chair of its influential Nominating Committee, only to reconvene two weeks later to scrap that decision and name a different chair instead.

But if you read the September 12 minutes, you’ll find no record of NomCom even being discussed, let alone a resolution being passed appointing a chair.

The newly published batch of documents cover several resolutions related to executive pay, but none of the minutes contain the same level of transparency as ICANN displayed in February 2021, when it revealed that three directors voted against CEO Göran Marby’s pay rise.

In terms of transparency, that now appears to fully confirmed as an isolated incident.

A sign of things to come? Verisign slashes outlook in post-pandemic slowdown

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign is warning that its business is going to grow slower than expected in 2022, due to the after-effects of the pandemic and general economic conditions.

The registry tonight reported first-quarter revenue of $347 million, up 7% on the comparable period a year ago, after raising its .com prices 7% last year.

But the company has slashed its sales estimates for the year.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts this evening that the company and its registrars have started to see a post-pandemic slowdown in sales, exacerbated by other unspecified “macro-economic factors”.

“Incremental demand for new registrations that grew during the pandemic is subsiding,” Bidzos said.

Many domain companies, including Verisign, saw growth spikes during the pre-vaccine pandemic, when many small businesses moved to online sales to stay afloat during recurring lockdown restrictions.

But that’s all over now, and the economic fallout most of us are feeling seems to also be affecting domain sales.

The company said its net income for the first quarter was $158 million, up from $150 a year ago. Its operating margin slipped a little, however, from an enormous 65% to an enormous 64.8%.

Verisign ended the quarter with 161.3 million .com domains and 13.1 million .net domains under management, up 4% combined at 174.7 million.

The renewal rate for .com and .net domains was estimated at 74.8%, up from 73.5% a year ago.

The company expects its domain base to grow between 1.75% and 3.5% this year. That’s down quite significantly from its February estimate of growth between 2.5% and 4.5%.

It added 10.1 million new names in the quarter, compared to 10.6 million in Q4 and 11.1 million in Q1 last year.

While Bidzos did not drill very deep into the other factors contributing to his pessimistic outlook, he did say that the war in Ukraine was not a factor. Sales in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are “not material”, he said.

I suspect what we’re looking at here is probably related to what the media here in the UK is calling the “cost of living crisis”, which is seeing the price of staples such as food and energy skyrocket and many people cut back on luxuries as a result.

Verisign wipes free TLDs from the world stats

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2022, Domain Registries

The number of domain names registered globally dropped by over 25 million in the first quarter, but only because Verisign has stopped tracking .tk and its free sister ccTLDs in its quarterly estimates.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief says that 2021 ended with 341.7 million registrations across all TLDs, substantially fewer that the 367.3 million it reported at the end of the third quarter.

But this is only because Verisign has decided to no longer count the six Pacific and African ccTLDs managed by Freenom, notably .tk, which had contributed 24.7 million names to the Q3 tally.

The report says: “the .tk, .cf, .ga, .gq and .ml ccTLDs have been excluded from all applicable calculations, due to an unexplained change in estimates for the .tk zone size and lack of verification from the registry operator for these TLDs.”

It sounds rather like there’s been another weird fluctuation in .tk’s numbers that threw off the overall trend picture again, and Verisign’s basically said “to hell with it” and decided to exclude Freenom from its reports from now on.

This means the normalized numbers for Q4 2021 — ignoring Freenom in all applicable quarters — are 341.7 million, up 3.3 million or 1.0% sequentially and up 1.6 million or 0.5% year over year, the DNIB states.

The Freenom business model is to give domains away for free, mostly, in the first instance. It makes its money by retaining and monetizing domains that either expire or, frequently, which it suspends for abuse.

.tk domains never get deleted, in other words, so counting them alongside TLDs with the industry-standard business model could give a misleading impression of the global demand for domain names.

It’s not so much that counting spam domains is bad — every TLD has a spam problem to a greater or lesser extent — but the lack of deletions can create faulty assumptions.

It’s also never been clear how Verisign and its third-party researcher, ZookNic, acquires its data on Freenom TLDs. Its .tk figure would often remain static for quarters on end, suggesting the data was only sporadically available.

I also tracked .tk’s published numbers independently for many years, and the last figure I have, from March 2019, is 41.3 million. It’s never been clear to me why the Verisign/ZookNic number has always been so much lower.

Verisign has always flagged up any oddities caused by .tk in its DNIB, and every edition has contained a footnote describing Freenom’s unusual practices.

The latest DNIB (pdf) says that .com had 160 million names, up 1.2 million, and .net had 13.4 million, down about 100,000, compared to Q3.

ccTLDs overall had 127.4 million, up about 700,000, a 0.6% sequential increase.

The ccTLD number was down by 5.3 million, or 4.0%, compared to the end of 2020, but that was due to a 9.4 million-name deletion by China’s .cn, which I noted in the second quarter and which Verisign calls a “registry-implemented zone reduction”.

Ignoring China, ccTLD names were up 4.1 million or 3.8%, the DNIB says.

Verisign only breaks out the top 10 ccTLDs separately, so the removal of .tk means that Australia’s .au is now in the top 10 list in tenth place with 3.4 million at the end of Q4. It will likely move up the ranks in the first quarter due to the release of second-level names, which has sped up its growth rate.

France’s .fr, with 3.9 million names, has now entered the overall top 10 TLDs due to .tk’s removal.

New gTLDs grew by 1.2 million names or 5.1% sequentially, but were down by pretty much the same amount annually, ending 2021 with 24.7 million names.

GoDaddy formally signs .tv registry contract

GoDaddy has formally taken on the contract to run .tv, the ccTLD for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, according to the company.

GoDaddy Registry said that the deal was signed with the Tuvalu government at the Dubai Expo 2020 trade show on March 30.

The company won a tender process last December in which incumbent Versigin, which has been running .tv for 20 years, did not participate.

Tuvalu is expected to get a much bigger share of the revenue than it did under Verisign, which paid $5 million a year, but terms have not been disclosed.

GoDaddy senior director of business development George Pongas said in a press release that the parties are “convinced that together we can position the .tv ccTLD for significant worldwide growth and a new era of brand awareness and community engagement”.

GoDaddy is substantially more customer-facing than Verisign, and controls the registration path, so it’s not difficult to see how this could boost .tv’s sales.

The deal comes at an opportune time, as user-created video content is experiencing something of a boom.

Mutually assured destruction? Now Afilias faces .web disqualification probe

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2022, Domain Policy

Afilias’ ongoing quest to have Verisign’s winning bid for the .web gTLD thrown out may have backfired, with ICANN now launching a probe into whether Afilias’ own bid should be disqualified.

Afilias and Verisign could now BOTH be kicked out of the .web fight, delivering the coveted gTLD into the hands of the third-placed bidder for a knock-down price.

There’s even the possibility that Verisign’s winning $135 million bid could be more than cut in half, taking tens of millions out of ICANN’s coffers.

ICANN’s board of directors on Thursday said it will investigate not only whether Verisign broke new gTLD program rules by using a Nu Dot Co as proxy to bid, but also whether Afilias broke the rules when an executive texted NDC during a pre-auction comms blackout period.

It’s the first time board has resolved to take a look at the allegations against Afilias, which so far have only come up in letters and arbitration filings from Verisign and NDC.

The .web auction in 2016 resulted in a winning bid of $135 million from NDC. It quickly emerged that its bid was bankrolled by Verisign, which had not directly applied for .web.

Afilias’ applicant subsidiary (now called Altanovo Domains, but we’re sticking with “Afilias” for this story) has been trying to use Verisign’s sleight-of-hand to get the auction overturned for years, on the basis that ICANN should have forced NDC to show its cards before the auction took place.

An Independent Review Process panel last year ruled that ICANN broke its own bylaws by failing to rule on Afilias’ allegations when they were first made, and told ICANN to put .web on hold while it finally formally decides whether Verisign broke the rules or not.

What the IRP panel did NOT do was ask ICANN to rule on Verisign’s counter-allegations about Afilias violating the auction blackout period. ICANN’s decided to do that all by itself, which must piss off Afilias no end.

The board resolved last week, with my emphasis:

Resolved (2022.03.10.06), the Board hereby: (a) asks the [Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee] to review, consider and evaluate the allegations relating to the Domain Acquisition Agreement (DAA) between NDC and Verisign and the allegations relating to Afilias’ conduct during the Auction Blackout Period; (b) asks the BAMC to provide the Board with its findings and recommendations as to whether the alleged actions of NDC and/or Afilias warrant disqualification or other consequences, if any, related to any relevant .WEB application; and (c) directs ICANN org to continue refraining from contracting for or delegation of the .WEB gTLD until ICANN has made its determination regarding the .WEB application(s).

I see four possible outcomes here.

  • Nobody gets disqualified. Verisign wins .web and ICANN gets to keep its $135 million. Afilias will probably file another IRP or lawsuit.
  • Verisign gets disqualified. Afilias gets .web and ICANN probably gets paid no more than $79.1 million, which was its maximum bid before the auction became a two-horse race. Verisign will probably file an IRP or lawsuit.
  • Afilias gets disqualified. Verisign wins .web and then it has to be figured out how much it pays. I believe the high bid before the third-place bidder pulled out was around $54 million, so it could be in that ball-park. Afilias will probably file another IRP or lawsuit.
  • Both Afilias and Verisign get disqualified. The third-placed bidder — and I don’t thinks its identity has ever been made public — wins .web and pays whatever their high bid was, possibly around $54 million. Everyone sues everyone else and all the lawyers get to buy themselves a new summer home.

The other remaining applicants are Donuts, Google, Radix and Schlund. Web.com has withdrawn its application.

The people who will decide whether to disqualify anyone are the six members of the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee who are not recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest (Edmon Chung has a relationship with Afilias).

Given that the board has already ruled that it has a fiduciary duty to dip into the new gTLD auction proceeds pretty much whenever it pleases, can’t we also assume that it has a fiduciary duty to make sure that auction proceeds pool is as large as possible?

Verisign and PIR join new DNS abuse group

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2022, Domain Policy

The domain name industry has just got its fourth (by my count) DNS abuse initiative, with plans for work on “trusted notifier” programs and Public Interest Registry and Verisign as members.

topDNS, which announced itself this week, is a project out of eco, the German internet industry association. It said its goals are:

the exchange of best practices, the standardisation of abuse reports, the development of a trusted notifier framework, and awareness campaigns towards policy makers, decision-makers and expert groups

eco’s Thomas Rickert told DI that members inside and outside the industry had asked for such an initiative to combat “the narrative that industry is not doing enough against an ever-increasing problem”.

He said there’s a “worrying trend” of the domain industry being increasingly seen as an easy bottleneck to get unwelcome content taken down, rather than going after the content or hosting provider.

“There is not an agreed-upon definition of what constitutes DNS abuse,” he said.

“There are groups interested in defining DNS abuse very broadly, because it’s more convenient for them I guess to go to a registrar or registry and ask for a domain takedown rather than trying to get content taken down with a hosting company,” he said.

topDNS has no plans to change the definition of “DNS abuse” that has already been broadly agreed upon by the legit end of the industry.

The DNS Abuse Framework, which was signed by 11 major registries and registrars (now, it’s up to 48 companies) in 2019 defines it as “malware, botnets, phishing, pharming, and spam (when it serves as a delivery mechanism for the other forms of DNS Abuse)”.

This is pretty much in line with their ICANN contractual obligations; ICANN itself shudders away from being seen as a content regulator.

The big asterisk next to “spam” perhaps delineates “domains” from “content”, but the Framework also recommends that registries and registrars should act against content when it comprises child sexual abuse material, illegal opioid sales, human trafficking, and “specific and credible” incitements to violence.

Rickert said the plan with topDNS is to help “operationalize” these definitions, providing the domain industry with things like best practice documents.

Of particular interest, and perhaps a point of friction with other parties in the ecosystem in future, is the plan to work on “the development of a trusted notifier framework”.

Trusted notifier systems are in place at a handful of gTLD and ccTLD registries already. They allow organizations — typically law enforcement or Big Content — a streamlined, structured path to get domains taken down when the content they lead to appears to be illegal.

The notifiers get a more reliable outcome, while the registries get some assurances that the notifiers won’t take the piss with overly broad or spammy takedown requests.

topDNS will work on templates for such arrangements, not on the arrangements themselves, Rickert said. Don’t expect the project to start endorsing certain notifiers.

Critics such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation find such programs bordering on censorship and therefore dangerous to free speech.

While the topDNS initiative only has six named members right now, it does have Verisign (.com and .net) and PIR (.org), which together look after about half of all extant domains across all TLDs. It also has CentralNic, a major registrar group and provider of back-end services for some of the largest new gTLDs.

“Verisign is pleased to support the new topDNS initiative, which will help bring together stakeholders with an interest in combating and mitigating DNS security threats,” a company spokesperson said.

Unlike CentralNic and PIR, Verisign is not currently one of the 48 signatories of the DNS Abuse Framework, but the spokesperson said topDNS is “largely consistent” with that effort.

Verisign has also expressed support for early-stage trusted notifier framework discussions being undertaken by ICANN’s registry and registrar stakeholder groups.

PIR also has its own separate project, the DNS Abuse Institute, which is working on similar stuff, along with some tools to support the paperwork.

DNSAI director Graeme Bunton said: “I see these efforts as complementary, not competing, and we are happy to support and participate in each of them.” He’s going to be on topDNS’s inaugural Advisory Council, he and Rickert said.

Rickert and Bunton both pointed out that topDNS is not going to be limited to DNS abuse issues alone — that’s simply the most pressing current matter.

Rickert said issues such as DNS over HTTP and blockchain naming systems could be of future interest.

Verisign saw MASSIVE query spike during Facebook outage

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2022, Domain Tech

Verisign’s .com and .net name servers saw a huge spike in queries when Facebook went offline for hours last October, Verisign said this week.

Queries for facebook.com, instagram.com, and whatsapp.net peaked at over 900,000 per second during the outage, up from a normal rate of 7,000 per second, a more than 100x increase, the company said in a blog post.

The widely publicized Facebook outage was caused by its IP addresses, including the IP addresses of its DNS servers, being accidentally withdrawn from routing tables. At first it looked to outside observers like a DNS failure.

When computers worldwide failed to find Facebook on their recursive name servers, they went up the hierarchy to Verisign’s .com and .net servers to find out where they’d gone, which led to the spike in traffic to those zones.

Traffic from DNS resolver networks run by Google and Cloudflare grew by 7,000x and 2,000x respectively during the outage, Verisign said.

The company also revealed that the failure of .club and .hsbc TLDs a few days later had a similar effect on the DNS root servers that Verisign operates.

Queries for the two TLDs at the root went up 45x, from 80 to 3,700 queries per second, Verisign said.

While the company said its systems were not overloaded, it subtly criticized DNS resolver networks such as Google and Cloudflare for “unnecessarily aggressive” query-spamming, writing:

We believe it is important for the security, stability and resiliency of the internet’s DNS infrastructure that the implementers of recursive resolvers and public DNS services carefully consider how their systems behave in circumstances where none of a domain name’s authoritative name servers are providing responses, yet the parent zones are providing proper referrals. We feel it is difficult to rationalize the patterns that we are currently observing, such as hundreds of queries per second from individual recursive resolver sources. The global DNS would be better served by more appropriate rate limiting, and algorithms such as exponential backoff, to address these types of cases

Verisign said it is proposing updates to internet standards to address this problem.

Battle for .web “far from over”, says Afilias lawyer

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2022, Domain Registries

Altanovo Domains’ fight with Verisign and ICANN for the .web gTLD is not over, despite an adverse ruling late last month, according to a top lawyer for the company.

Altanovo, the company previously known as Afilias Domains No 3, has not thrown in the towel and left the path clear for Verisign to launch .web, Arif Ali of the law firm Dechert told DI last night.

“Bottom line: this matter is far from over and no, Verisign doesn’t ‘get to run .web after all;’ certainly if the Board does its job objectively and fairly,” he said in an email.

He said this just hours before ICANN published its latest, but by no means final, board resolution on the .web case.

Ali represented Afilias in its Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN’s decision to award .web to Verisign following a 2016 auction, which was won by a company called Nu Dot Co, secretly backed by $135 million of Verisign’s money.

Afilias technically won its IRP, with the panel ruling last May that ICANN broke its bylaws by shirking its duty to address Afilias’ claim that NDC broke new gTLD program rules. Afilias said ICANN should have forced NDC to disclose itself a Verisign pawn before the auction went ahead.

ICANN got close to signing a registry agreement for .web with NDC, despite it being an open question as to whether the auction was legit, the panel ruled. It ordered ICANN to pay Afilias its $450,000 in legal fees and $479,458 of IRP costs.

What the IRP did not do was void the Verisign/NDC bid, nor give Afilias rights to .web.

Instead, it instructed ICANN to stay the .web contract-signing until its board has formally “considered and pronounced upon the question of whether the [Verisign-NDC Domain Acquisition Agreement] complied with the New gTLD Program Rules”.

The board had held a secret, undocumented discussion about the case in November 2016 and decided to keep its mouth shut and just let the IRP play out, according to the IRP ruling, which essentially told the board to stop avoiding difficult questions and to actually make a call on the legitimacy of the Verisign play.

Before the board could do so, Afilias/Altanovo filed an unprecedented appeal with the IRP panel. Technically an “application for an additional decision and interpretation”, Afilias asked the IRP panel to definitively answer the question of whether Verisign broke the rules rather than merely passing the hot potato back to ICANN’s board.

But in a December 21 decision (pdf), the IRP panel denied Afilias’ request as “frivolous” in its entirely, writing:

The Panel has dismissed the [Afilias] Application in its entirety. In the opinion of the Panel, under the guise of seeking an additional decision, the Application is seeking reconsideration of core elements of the Final Decision. Likewise, under the guise of seeking interpretation, the Application is requesting additional declarations and advisory opinions on a number of questions, some of which had not been discussed in the proceedings leading to the Final Decision.

In such circumstances, the Panel cannot escape the conclusion that the Application is “frivolous” in the sense of it “having no sound basis (as in fact or law)”. This finding suffices to entitle the Respondent [ICANN] to the cost shifting decision it is seeking and obviates the necessity of determining whether the Application is also “abusive”.

The panel told Afilias to pay ICANN’s $236,884 legal fees and the panel’s costs of $140,335, leaving Afilias out of pocket and back to square one in terms of getting clarity on whether Verisign’s actions were kosher.

Afilias had basically accused the panel of shirking its duties and punting its decision on Verisign’s auction bid in much the same way as the panel decided that ICANN had shirked its duties and punted its decision on Verisign’s auction bid.

Nobody seems to want to make a call on whether the successful Verisign-NDC ploy to win the .web auction with a secretly bankrolled bid was legit.

On Sunday, the full ICANN board met to discuss the outcome of the IRP and — surprise surprise — it punted again, instructing a subcommittee to look more closely at the matter:

the Board asks the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee (BAMC) to review, consider, and evaluate the IRP Panel’s Final Declaration and recommendation, and to provide the Board with its findings to consider and act upon before the organization takes any further action toward the processing of the .WEB application(s).

There’s not yet a publicly announced date for the next BAMC meeting. It tends to meet as and when needed, so we might not have too long to wait.

Once the committee has made a decision, it would be referred back to the full board for a final rubber stamp, and it seems that only after that would Afilias make its next move.

Ali, in an email sent to DI just a few hours before ICANN published its Sunday board resolution last night, said:

The [IRP] Panel also made it clear that the Board can’t just punt on the matter as it did previously, but must decide it, and that its decision is subject to review by a future IRP panel.

There’s nothing preventing Afilias filing another IRP to challenge the board’s ultimate decision, should it favor Verisign. Likewise, if it favors Afilias, Verisign could use IRP to appeal.

Verisign has been pursuing a counter-claim against Afilias, albeit so far only in the court of public opinion, accusing the company of breaking ICANN’s rules by trying to secretly “rig” the .web auction during a communications blackout period.

Ali calls this a “red herring”, among other things.

In my view, whichever way ICANN’s board goes, it’s going to wind up back in an IRP.

With IRP proceedings typically measured in years, and no indication that Afilias or Verisign are ready to back down, it seems the .web saga may still have some considerable time left on the clock.

If you’re desperate to register a .web domain, don’t hold your breath.

Note: most of Afilias was acquired by Donuts a year ago, but the .web application was not part of the deal. The IRP proceedings have continued to refer to “Afilias” interchangeably with “Altanovo”, and I’m doing the same in my coverage.

GoDaddy wins .tv contract after Verisign blows off 20-year deal

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2021, Domain Registries

GoDaddy is taking over the contract to run .tv from Verisign, after Verisign didn’t even bother to bid for renewal.

The deal brings to an end a relationship between Verisign and the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu that has lasted 20 years and contributed millions to the country’s economy.

The country’s communications ministry said on its Facebook page that GoDaddy Registry was selected after a “competitive tender process”, but DI understands that Verisign did not participate.

While terms of the new GoDaddy deal have not been disclosed, it seems likely that Tuvalu was looking for a far bigger slice of the pie than the $5 million a year it was getting from Verisign, and for moneybags Verisign, with its .com cash-printing machine, it simply wasn’t worth the hassle.

Tuvalu has around 11,000 inhabitants and gross national income of around $60 million — its .tv money was a big deal for the country, even at the amount Verisign was paying.

With a likely bigger chunk of change coming from GoDaddy, it’s going to have more to invest in what it calls its “digital nation” strategy, which appears to involve investing heavily in blockchain-based technologies to compensate for the fact that it may well disappear beneath the waves over the next few decades.

.tv is a cornerstone of this strategy, the government says.

There’s thought to be at least half a million registered .tv domains, and the bog-standard non-premiums retail for about $50 a year, so it’s been a nice little earner for Verisign over the last two decades.

The company first took on .tv in 2001 when it acquired startup .tv Corp, which had inked the original deal with Tuvalu in 1998, for $45 million. The contract has been renewed a few times since then.

The ccTLD was the first example of a mainstream TLD offering tiered pricing, with premium strings carrying bigger price tags — controversial 20 years ago, almost standard practice today.

There have been reports over the years that the country thought it was getting short-changed by the deal, and the contract was put up for bidding earlier this year.

Despite reports that the tender seemed suspiciously tailored for a Donuts win, it seems GoDaddy has emerged the victor.

One can only assume it’s offered Tuvalu a bigger slice of the pie, which is what it had to do (under its previous incarnation as Neustar) to keep hold of the contract to run Colombia’s .co last year.

Neither Verisign nor GoDaddy has publicly released a statement about the switch. While it’s a lot of money, it’s not strictly material to either company’s already swollen top lines.

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.