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ICA rallies the troops to defeat .org price hikes. It won’t work

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2019, 18:37:03 (UTC), Domain Registries

Over 100 letters have been sent to ICANN opposing the proposed lifting of price caps in .org, after the Internet Commerce Association reached out to rally its supporters.

This is an atypically large response to an ICANN public comment period, and there are four days left on the clock for more submissions to be made, but I doubt it will change ICANN’s mind.

Almost all of the 131 comments filed so far this month were submitted in the 24 hours after ICA published its comment submission form earlier this week.

About a third of the comments comprise simply the unedited ICA text. Others appeared to have been inspired by the campaign to write their own complaints about the proposal, which would scrap the 10%-a-year .org price increase cap Public Interest Registry currently has in place.

Zak Muscovitch, ICA’s general counsel, told DI that as of this morning the form generates different template text dynamically. I’ve spotted at least four completely different versions of the letter just by refreshing the page. This may make some comments appear to be the original thoughts of their senders.

This is the original text, as it relates to price caps:

I believe that legacy gTLDs are fundamentally different from for-profit new gTLDs. Legacy TLDs are essentially a public trust, unlike new gTLDs which were created, bought and paid for by private interests. Registrants of legacy TLDs are entitled to price stability and predictability, and should not be subject to price increases with no maximums. Unlike new gTLDs, registrants of legacy TLDs registered their names and made their online presence on legacy TLDs on the basis that price caps would continue to exist.

Unrestrained price increases on the millions of .org registrants who are not-for-profits or non-profits would be unfair to them. Unchecked price increases have the potential to result in hundreds of millions of dollars being transferred from these organizations to one non-profit, the Internet Society, with .org registrants receiving no benefit in return. ICANN should not allow one non-profit nearly unlimited access to the funds of other non-profits.

The gist of the other texts is the same — it’s not fair to lift price caps on domains largely used by non-profits that may have budget struggles and which have built their online presences on the old, predictable pricing rules.

The issues raised are probably fair, to a point.

Should the true “legacy” gTLDs — .com, .net and .org — which date from the 1980s and pose very little commercial risk to their registries, be treated the same as the exceptionally risky gTLD businesses that have been launched since?

Does changing the pricing rules amount to unfairly moving the goal posts for millions of registrants who have built their business on the legacy rules?

These are good, valid questions.

But I think it’s unlikely that the ICA’s campaign will get ICANN to change its mind. The opposition would have to be broader than from a single interest group.

First, the message about non-profits rings a bit hollow coming from an explicitly commercial organization whose members’ business model entails flipping domain names for large multiples.

If a non-profit can’t afford an extra 10 bucks a year for a .org renewal, can it afford the hundreds or thousands of dollars a domainer would charge for a transfer?

Even if PIR goes nuts, abandons its “public interest” mantra, and immediately significantly increases its prices, the retail price of a .org (currently around $20 at GoDaddy, which has about a third of all .orgs) would be unlikely to rise to above the price of PIR-owned .ong and .ngo domains, which sell for $32 to $50 retail.

Such an increase might adversely affect a small number of very low-budget registrants, but the biggest impact will be felt by the big for-profit portfolio owners: domainers.

Second, letter-writing campaigns don’t have a strong track record of persuading ICANN to change course.

The largest such campaign to date was organized by registrars in 2015 in response to proposals, made by members of the Privacy and Proxy Services Accreditation Issues working group, that would have would have essentially banned Whois privacy for commercial web sites.

Over 20,000 people signed petitions or sent semi-automated comments opposing that recommendation, and ICANN ended up not approving that specific proposal.

But the commercial web site privacy ban was a minority position written by IP lawyers, included as an addendum to the group’s recommendations, and it did not receive the consensus of the PPSAI working group.

In other words, ICANN almost certainly would not have implemented it anyway, due to lack of consensus, even if the public comment period had been silent.

The second-largest public comment period concerned the possible approval of .xxx in 2010, which attracted almost 14,000 semi-automated comments from members of American Christian-right groups and pornographers.

.xxx was nevertheless approved less than a year later.

ICANN also has a track record of not acceding to ICA’s demands when it comes to changes in registry agreements for pre-2012 gTLDs.

ICA, under former GC Phil Corwin, has also strongly objected to similar changes in .mobi, .jobs, .cat, .xxx and .travel over the last few years, and had no impact.

ICANN seems hell-bent on normalizing its gTLD contracts to the greatest extent possible. It’s also currently proposing to lift the price caps on .biz and .info.

This, through force of precedent codified in the contracts, could lead to the price caps one day, many years from now, being lifted on .com.

Which, let’s face it, is what most people really care about.

Info on the .org contract renewal public comment period can be found here.

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Comments (22)

  1. Always enjoy reading your articles, Kevin!

    There are now over 380 comments, and growing by the minute, but the ICA cannot claim all of the credit for this, as in fact, many of the comments are the direct result of;

    a) a Slashdot post from yesterday (See; https://tech.slashdot.org/story/19/04/23/2330210/icann-proposes-allowing-unlimited-fee-increases-for-org-domain-names) which resulted in many long-time netizens and .org registrants voicing their opposition to the removal of price caps;

    b) Yesterday’s blog post from the domain name registar, Namecheap, alerting their customers of the .org price cap removal proposal (See; https://www.namecheap.com/blog/keep-domain-prices-in-check/

    c) .org registrants otherwise becoming aware of this issue and voicing their concern.

    The ICA did assist with this effort by creating an online form to assist people in submitting comments but only a fraction are ICA members or domain name investors (who typically are not very involved in the .org namespace if at all).

    Reading through these comments from boy scout troop leaders, church leaders, charities, not for profits, trade associations, and many individual .org registrants, is eye opening and I encourage everyone to read them. All express great concern as a result of the proposal to remove price caps and are reminding ICANN of the imperative of standing guard over the public interest.

    What appears to be happening here, is that we are seeing the end-user registrants of .org domain names, making their voices heard, so I don’t think this can all be attributed to a “single interest group” of domain investors.

    Rather, the “single interest group” that appears to be most aggrieved and vocal, are .org registrants, charities, and organizations, themselves.

    I expect to see even wider disapproval of this proposed policy before Comments close, and I urge ICANN to take these Comments very seriously.

    General Counsel, ICA

  2. Bruce says:

    Continued No-bid monopoly control of legacy TLDs is the key issue. We should demand competition, and contracts which guarantee (lower) retail pricing. And sure Phil Corwin’s migration from ICA was awkward & sad; Thanks for 11+ years of advocacy! The grant of no-bid contracts undermines the public interest and contaminates commercial relations.

    • John says:

      A license to print money. And have not some ICANN staff later waltzed into lucrative commercial arrangements after leaving ICANN, the way it works in government when a government official leaves their job for a cushy new arrangement in the private sector with those who have benefited from their decisions while in office, i.e. the “revolving door”?

  3. Brad Mugford says:

    It is now up to 561 comments and counting.

    The vast majority, if not all, are opposed to this proposal. There are no benefits for the millions of registrants.

    There is simply no justification to remove price protections on legacy extensions. These extensions exist as a public trust.

    ICANN was designed for “public benefit”. This policy is obviously against that charter.

    Companies like GoDaddy should get behind this as well. They could be as negatively impacted as everyone else.

    If this is successful with .ORG, you know they are coming after .COM next.

    GoDaddy has spent millions & millions buying massive domain portfolios from people like Michael Berkens and others. What would happen to that model if their holding costs increased dramatically?

    Brad

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Oh, .com is definitely next. Not for another five or six years. But it’s coming.

    • John says:

      Why are registrars not speaking out, with the exception of Namecheap?

      Follow the money…

      I suspect the same reason why they seem to like the new gTLDs. They may be thinking they stand to make far more money with no price caps.

  4. Dogood says:

    This is a bit of a catch-22. There is a policy imperative that ICANN harmonize the gTLD registries under a common registry agreement in order to fulfill its duty to be equitable and non-discriminatory. In this case, there are reasonable trade-offs being made whereby PIR agrees to and accepts additional commitments that are in the public interest, in exchange for being permitted pricing flexibility.

    However, this is a unique one-off and shouldn’t be viewed as a dry run for .com, or even .net. PIR is well-run and they are making responsible trade-off’s but they command nothing approaching the magnitude of market power wielded by VeriSign as demonstrated by the three areas it has captured: 1) its regulator (icann); it’s channel (registrars) and it’s community. It would be a crime if this .org evolution was in any permitted to guide some future .com contract change.

    • John says:

      > “There is a policy imperative that ICANN harmonize the gTLD registries under a common registry agreement in order to fulfill its duty to be equitable and non-discriminatory.”

      Am I literally the only person on the Internet who sees what bogus bamboozling nonsense that line of argument is? And that’s putting it nicely

      “We have invented our own ‘policy imperative’ and therefore our hands are tied. There is nothing we can do.”

      Did you ever see the movie “Labyrinth” with David Bowie:

      https://youtu.be/dFAwRulOnPc?t=155

      But such a policy is based on falsehood to begin with. Everyone who is saying the legacy TLDs are categorically different and constitute a *public trust* is telling the truth, and anyone who says otherwise is lying, plain and simple.

      Changing the treatment of *categorically difrerent* legacy TLDs is what would be the discrimination, abuse and corruption.

  5. Mark says:

    It’s pretty interesting how with domain names more competition only results in prices going up, instead of going down.

  6. I am sorry Kevin but it is really shortsighted saying that companies that own a .org won’t care if prices for .org rise from $10 to $50.

    This is not about a single company. You are looking at the tree and losing the forest as we say in Greece.
    It is about the whole effect this will have on the global economy no matter minuscule as it may seem now. How is such a huge price increase justified?
    An increase of all domains (lets say about 200 million of legacy domains) from $10 to $100 would mean that an extra 180 BILLION dollars will go to just 4 companies over the next 10 years. 4 US companies. How is this justified?
    Registrants now pay about 20 billion over 10 years.
    They will have to pay 200 BILLION dollars!!!
    Greece’s gross domestic product is about 200 billion per year. We would love to take over these extensions and run a few servers around the world. This is free money.

    Companies (and domainers that you so much like to include) have already paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for the rights of these .org domains.

    Your $32 or $50 prices are truly random. It could be $100 or maybe $856 per year. If all price caps are eliminated then it would be really easy for these 4 companies to raise the prices to $100 or even higher.
    Any price increase would effectively mean that Verisign or PIR would cease your domains and make you pay rent on them. This is domain name confiscation.

    We are now paying an administrative fee to these companies. An administrative is pretty much set. New gtlds are paying $1 or less per domain.

    Anything above $2 or $3 per year is already too expensive for the backend registries that Verisign, PIR, Afilias and Neustar truly are.

    • John says:

      > “Any price increase would effectively mean that Verisign or PIR would cease your domains and make you pay rent on them. This is domain name confiscation.”

      Exactly. It becomes not only a license to print money, but also a license to engage in “constructive eviction” or confiscation.

      A truly sick world in which we live when something is so blatant and so global in scale.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      An increase of all domains (lets say about 200 million of legacy domains) from $10 to $1,000 would mean that an extra 3.6 TRILLION dollars will go to just 4 companies over the next 20 years. 4 US companies. How is this justified? Registrants now pay about 20 billion over 10 years. They will have to pay 4 TRILLION dollars!!!

  7. There are now over 1700 Comments and its going up by the minute still. Comments are from all manner of organizations. Hundreds of community groups, charities, churches, scout troops, university students, programmers, small businesses, individual registrants, and others have all expressed their opposition. I have yet to see a single Comment in favor of removing price caps.

    There is in particular, a very strong Comment letter from the from the National Council of Nonprofits, which represents 25,000 organizational members. See: https://mm.icann.org/pipermail/comments-org-renewal-18mar19/2019q2/000918.html

    One really has to wonder who this proposal is supposed intended to help, as ORGANIZATIONS – which this registry intended for – have clearly spoken and think it is a lousy idea. Not surprising, as nobody wants to see their registration and renewal fees go up, especially when there is no genuine justification for it.

    • John says:

      My original intention when coming here was to include another remark about how unsavory I have sometimes found Mr. Kevin Murphy here to be.

      However, after reading his post, in a sense he actually raises a very important point.

      If (and only if) there is too much reliance or focus on the non-profit angle, or framing the issue almost entirely around it, that is most definitely a *huge* mistake. I don’t really know if that is what you and the ICA or others have done in your direct statements to ICANN practically speaking, but right now it sounds possible to some degree.

      Now this article of yours may not relate directly and specifically to the question of .org, .info and .biz, but it certainly relates squarely to the overall issue: http://www.circleid.com/posts/20181112_verisigns_attempt_to_increase_fees_unjustified_despite/. As far as I’m concerned you should get an award for that one too, and I’ve expressed as much at another blog lately and have spoken of it before.

      Yes, it is certainly important to address the non-profit dimension. But the main focus has to be the underlying principle regardless of for-profit or non-profit. I don’t care if the main customers of legacy TLDs were society’s billionaires. The principle stands even if that were the case, and should be argued as such.

      So yes, if (and only if – so I’m not saying I agree that you or anyone are yet, since I haven’t seen your actual statements to ICANN) anyone is approaching ICANN with too much central emphasis on the plight of non-profits, that is a very problematic approach. Furthermore, it only opens the door to the important principle being trashed and violated regarding commercial or for-profit TLDs. The true *categorical difference* of legacy TLDs constituting a true public trust, which you have so well pointed out before, and the reliance of the public on that for decades since the beginning regardless of entity status is what the primary emphasis should be.

  8. Brad Mugford says:

    As it stands there are now 2400+ comments. As far as I can tell, every one is negative of the proposal.

    The comments are also coming from a very diverse group of people from small end users, companies, organizations, charities, groups, investors, and more.

    When you have such a diverse group of people all against something, it is probably for a valid reason.

    Kevin, as far as your comments about raising the price to $50. Why $50? That is just an arbitrary number. Why not $100, or $250, or $500, or $1000.

    That is the problem. Any price raise is not based on any actual need. It is just an arbitrary price.

    PIR does not own the .ORG registry. They are just tasked with operating it and really should be content with their position of being the contracted middleman.

    We all know if this contract was put up for public bid the prices would go down, not up.

    This is an extension that has existed for 30+ years. It is an extension that predates ICANN. It is an extension that has millions of actives websites on.

    This policy would put every registrant at the complete mercy and whims of the registry.

    I am glad to see the push back to this policy.

    I am not willing to just trust the registry to do the right thing, as they act as a monopoly being the exclusive supplier of .ORG domains

    Brad

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      It’s not an arbitrary number, Brad. It’s the retail price of .ong and .ngo domains names. These are both examples of what prices look like when PIR runs a registry not subject to price caps. As such, I think they’re relevant.

  9. John says:

    Who’s still liking that “transition” from US oversight now, by the way? Anyone think this could even be happening had that not occurred, regardless of the US having its own menu of corruption?

    And for bonus points, who remembers the bogus argument used to “sell” the transition?

    (“They will ‘balkanize’ if we don’t give in to this demand.”)

  10. John says:

    Question:

    Are registrars not speaking out in opposition (except for Namecheap) because they look forward to making more money with no price caps, just like with the new gTLDs?

  11. John says:

    This is the human condition in this world and this life:

    If people can do evil, they will do evil.

    ICANN was allowed to “transition” away from US oversight. Now they can do what they want and are accountable to nothing and no one. Sure, there is no guarantee this would not have been attempted under US oversight, maybe even allowed by a corrupt misguided administration, but at least the possibility of check and restraint was also in place.

    When it comes to price caps and regulation for the truly categorically different public trust of legacy TLDs people have commonsensically relied upon, however, if you remove constraints then people “can do evil.” And evil is what you should expect sooner or later. There mere uncertainty and risk of such a situation is bad and detrimental to begin with.

  12. John says:

    PS:

    Not only are legacy TLDs categorically different as a public trust, they should also be thought of as a public utility.

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