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2019 Domain Name Year in Review

And so it goes, we are coming to the end of 2019, and that can mean only one thing. It’s time for another Domain Name Year in Review. And unlike years past, this year was a real doozy. So without further ado, here are the domain name industry’s top 10 biggest stories for 2019.

10. Leading Registries and Registrars Sign on to Framework for Abuse

To date, 48 leading registries and registrars have signed onto the “Framework to Address Abuse.” The initiative was launched in November 2019, just prior to the ICANN meeting in Montreal. It addresses many of the most egregious abuses of the Domain Name System (DNS), including malware, botnets, phishing, pharming and spam.

9. Whois Replaced by RDAP

The replacement for Whois is known as RDAP (Registration Data Access Protocol). ICANN required registrars and registries to be up and running with their RDAP servers no later than August 26, 2019. RDAP provides for more structured data in its responses and can enable different levels of access based on authentication in the future if needed.

8. New Blocking Offerings Become Available

Years after the launch of new gTLDs, both ICM and Uniregistry have launched new blocking offerings that allow brand owners to protect their marks, as well as variations of their marks, across TLDs operated by the respective registries. Unlike other offerings, these new blocks provide protection against homographic strings that leverage non-Latin character sets to create look-alike domains.

7. .Amazon: No, Yes, No – Maybe So?

The never-ending saga of the .Amazon TLDs continued into 2019. Earlier this year, it seemed as though the .Amazon TLDs would be allowed to proceed. However, a reconsideration request was later filed by Colombia and then rejected in September of this year. The applications currently have a status of ‘In PDT’ on the ICANN website, but there are still differing views across the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee.

6. ICANN Works Towards gTLD Registration Policy

Earlier this year, the EPDP (Expedited Policy Development Process) Working Group on gTLD Registration Data completed their Phase 1 report. The 188-page report identified domain name ownership details to be collected and published. Phase 2 which focuses on developing a standardized model for disclosure of non-public registration data, is now underway. The working group is under pressure from some members of the ICANN community to complete their work as expeditiously as possible.

5. US Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Booking.com Case

Just two months ago, the US Supreme Court agreed to consider whether a domain name consisting of a generic term should be granted trademark protection. The case will likely be heard in Spring 2020.

4. ICANN Issues Security Alert

In February of 2019, ICANN issued an alert warning of attacks on the DNS. They specifically advised, “that members of the domain name industry, registries, registrars, resellers, and related others, take immediate proactive and precautionary measures, including implementing security best practices, to protect their systems, their customers’ systems and information reachable via the DNS.”

3. .ORG and .INFO Price Caps Lifted

Bringing older contracts in line with current registry agreements, ICANN lifted price caps for both .ORG and .INFO on June 30, 2019. This move signaled to many that ICANN would likely do the same for the .COM registry agreement as well. Nary a soul envisioned how the removal of price caps for .ORG would ultimately create such a firestorm.

2. New gTLDs: The Gift that Keeps On Giving

Even eight years after the first round was introduced, new gTLDs continue to be awarded and launched. In a surprising turn of events, .Music was awarded to dotMusic Ltd beating out Donuts, Amazon and Google to name a few. Notable launches this year included .DEV and .NEW with .GAY slated to launch early next year.

1. .ORG Acquired by Private Equity

On November 13, 2019, the Internet Society and PIR announced an agreement with Ethos Capital, a private equity firm, to acquire PIR and all of its assets, including the .ORG registry. Under the new ownership, PIR will no longer operate as a nonprofit, which has caused great concern now that the price caps for .ORG has been lifted. PIR has stated that Ethos Capital “is committed to keeping .ORG accessible and reasonably priced for all.” That said, in a letter that was sent just days ago, the Packet Clearing House (PCH) stated that even with a price increase of 10%, PIR will not be able to maintain operational reliability, as 96% of .ORG’s operational funding had previously come from tax-deductible donations, which can no longer be utilized given that PIR will operate as a for-profit business. In response to PCH, Afilias clarified that “Afilias—not PCH—is responsible for ensuring that .ORG names remain available 100% of the time and that Afilas will continue “exemplary performance at pricing consistent with the current contract with PIR.”

So what can we expect in 2020? I expect that the precedent set by the sale of .ORG will have a lasting impact and that the EPDP Working Group will continue their work well into 2020. I am hopeful that their draft report for Phase 2 will be published by year’s end. I also think that by the end of next year, we should have a better estimate of timing for the second round of new gTLDs, and that companies who are interested in applying will begin socializing the idea across their respective enterprises. Of course, as with all things domain, we won’t really know until it happens, and even then, things are subject to change.

By Elisa Cooper, Head of Marketing, GoDaddy Corporate Domains

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