Verisign has sensationally lost the right to increase .com prices under a new deal struck with the US Department of Commerce.
In a statement to the markets just now, the company announced that the .com contract approved by ICANN earlier this year has now also been approved by Commerce, but with no more price increases:
Verisign’s current pricing of $7.85 per domain name registration will continue for the six-year term of the Agreement. Second, Verisign no longer has the right to four price increases of up to seven percent over the six-year term.
The company will only be able to increase prices with prior Commerce approval in response to “extraordinary” circumstances such as a security problem, or when the competitive landscape changes.
For example, if .com loses its “market power”, pricing restrictions could be lifted entirely, subject to Commerce approval.
Similarly, if ICANN approves a Consensus Policy that changes Verisign’s cost structure, the company could apply for price-increasing powers.
The deal is a huge blow for Verisign’s shareholders, wiping tens — potentially hundreds — of millions of dollars from the company’s top line over the coming six years.
Its share price is sure to nose-dive today. It’s already trading down 15% before the New York markets open.
It’s also an embarrassment to ICANN, which seems to have demonstrated that it’s less capable of looking after the interests of registrants than the US government.
That said, the new contract appears to have kept ICANN’s new fee structure, meaning the organization will be about $8 million a year richer than before.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Verisign said the new pricing provisions came in Amendment 32 to its Cooperative Agreement with Commerce:
Amendment 32 provides that the Maximum Price (as defined in the 2012 .com Registry Agreement) of a .com domain name shall not exceed $7.85 for the term of the 2012 .com Registry Agreement, except that the Company is entitled to increase the Maximum Price of a .com domain name due to the imposition of any new Consensus Policy or documented extraordinary expense resulting from an attack or threat of attack on the Security or Stability of the DNS as described in the 2012 .com Registry Agreement, provided that the Company may not exercise such right unless the DOC provides prior written approval that the exercise of such right will serve the public interest, such approval not to be unreasonably withheld. Amendment 32 further provides that the Company shall be entitled at any time during the term of the 2012 . com Registry Agreement to seek to remove the pricing restrictions contained in the 2012 .com Registry Agreement if the Company demonstrates to the DOC that market conditions no longer warrant pricing restrictions in the 2012 .com Registry Agreement, as determined by the DOC. Amendment 32 also provides that the DOC’s approval of the 2012 .com Registry Agreement is not intended to confer federal antitrust immunity on the Company with respect to the 2012 .com Registry Agreement and extends the term of the Cooperative Agreement through November 30, 2018.
On a conference call with analysts, Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos said that the deal was in the best interests of the company. It still gives the company the presumptive right for renewal, he said.
Growth, he said, will come in future from an expansion of its .com installed base, new IDN gTLD variants, and providing back-end registry services to other new gTLDs.
“We’re still a growth company,” he said.
“We have a patent portfolio we haven’t really exploited,” he said, referring to about 200 patents granted and pending. “We think there’s a revenue opportunity there.”
Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at Commerce, said in a statement:
Consumers will benefit from Verisign’s removal of the automatic price increases. At the same time, the agreement protects the security and stability of the Internet by allowing Verisign to take cost-based price increases where justified.
The full Amendment 32 is posted here.