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ICANN explains how .org pricing decision was made

ICANN has responded to questions about how its decision to lift price caps on .org, along with .biz and .info, was made.

The buck stops with CEO Göran Marby, it seems, according to an ICANN statement, sent to DI last night.

ICANN confirmed that was no formal vote of the board of directors, though there were two “consultations” between staff and board and the board did not object to the staff’s plans.

The removal of price caps on .org — which had been limited to a 10% increase per year — proved controversial.

ICANN approved the changes to Public Interest Registry’s contract despite receiving over opposing messages from 3,200 people and organizations during its open public comment period.

Given that the board of directors had not voted, it was not at all clear how the decision to disregard these comments had been made and by whom.

The Internet Commerce Association, which coordinated much of the response to the comment period, has since written to ICANN to ask for clarity on this and other points.

ICANN’s response to DI may shed a little light.

ICANN staff first briefed the board about the RA changes at its retreat in Los Angeles from January 25 to 28 this year, according to the statement.

That briefing covered the reasons ICANN thinks it is desirable to migrate legacy gTLD Registry Agreements to the 2012-round’s base RA, which has no pricing controls.

The base RA “provides additional safeguards and security and stability requirements compared to legacy agreements” and “creates efficiencies for ICANN org in administration and compliance enforcement”, ICANN said.

Migrating old gTLDs to the standardized new contract complies with ICANN’s bylaws commitment “to introduce and promote competition in the registration of domain names and, where feasible and appropriate, depend upon market mechanisms to promote and sustain a competitive environment in the DNS market”, ICANN said.

They also contain provisions forcing the registry to give advance notice of price changes and to give registrants the chance to lock-in prices for 10 years by renewing during the notice period, the board was told.

After the January briefing, Marby made the call to continue negotiations. The statement says:

After consultation with the Board at the Los Angeles workshop, and with the Board’s support, the CEO decided to continue the plan to complete the renewal negotiations utilizing the Base RA. The Board has delegated the authority to sign contracts to the CEO or his designee.

A second board briefing took place after the public comment periods, at the board’s workshop in Marrakech last month.

The board was presented with ICANN’s staff summary of the public comments (pdf), along with other briefing documents, then Marby made the call to move forward with signing.

Following the discussion with the Board in Marrakech, and consistent with the Board’s support, the CEO made the decision for ICANN org to continue with renewal agreements as proposed, using the Base gTLD Registry Agreement.

Both LA and Marrakech briefings “were closed sessions and are not minuted”, ICANN said.

But it appears that the board of directors, while not voting, had at least two opportunities to object to the new contracts but chose not to stand in staff’s way.

At the root of the decision appears to be ICANN Org’s unswerving, doctrinal mission to make its life easier and stay out of price regulation to the greatest extent possible.

Reasonable people can disagree, I think, on whether this is a worthy goal. I’m on the fence.

But it does beg the question: what’s going to happen to .com?

Zimbabwe wants to rebuild its domain market from scratch

Zimbabwe has put out a call for feedback on plans to modernize its almost non-existent domain name industry.

The local ccTLD manager, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), has issued a consultation document discussing plans to essentially architect the .zw market from scratch.

.zw currently has no automated registration process, no Whois, no formal registry-registrar framework, no DNSSEC, no IPv6, and no governing policies.

POTRAZ is proposing to adopt “best practices” from fellow ccTLDs in Africa and elsewhere, by appointing a new registry operator that will work with a registrar channel under policies created by POTRAZ, as sponsoring organization, itself.

It looks rather like the contract to run the ccTLD could soon be up for grabs.

But first, POTRAZ wants to know how much involvement the Zimbabwean government should have in the operations of the TLD, presenting four options ranging from full governmental control to industry self-regulation.

Currently, POTRAZ, a government regulator, has handed off registry operations for .zw to state-owned telecoms company TelOne.

It has a three-level structure, with TelOne looking after .org.zw, the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association looking after .co.zw and the University of Harare managing .ac.zw.

Interestingly, POTRAZ has not yet decided whether .zw domains should be free or paid for, and whether annual renewals should be required.

The consultation is open until August 9.

Zimbabwe has a population of about 16 million and, according to Internet World Stats, 6.8 million internet users.

Luxembourg tops 100,000 .lu domains

Luxembourgish ccTLD .lu has grown to more than 100,000 domain names for the first time.

ccTLD operator Restena said last week that the domain crossed the threshold June 21. At the end of the month, it had 100,056 domains under management.

While it’s certainly not a lot for a ccTLD, it is when compared to the size of the country it represents.

Luxembourg has a population of under 600,000, so in theory 1 in 6 Luxembourgish people own a .lu domain.

That’s close to the ratio as you’d see in the UK, with its 66 million inhabitants and 12 million .uk domains, though it trails Germany’s 1:5 and the Netherlands’ 1:3.

The per capita numbers are probably not all that useful, however. Restena said that 75% of its domains are in corporate hands.

Many companies are “based” in Luxembourg for tax reasons, which may have some impact on reg numbers.

Restena said that about 3,000 names of the 100,000 are “reserved” and not actively used.

The growth of .lu has not been particularly fast. My records show it has only grown by about 3,000 names over the last year.

China domain smaller than expected

The Chinese national ccTLD registry has reported 2018 registration figures below what outsiders had estimated.

CNNIC said last week (in Chinese) that it ended last year with 21.24 million .cn domain names under management.

That’s quite a lot below the 22.7 million domains reported by Verisign’s Q4 Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf).

It would also slip .cn into second-place after .tk in the ccTLD rankings, and into third place overall, if the DNIB’s estimate of .tk’s 21.5 million domains is accurate.

Tokelau’s repurposed ccTLD is unusual in that the registry does not delete domains that expire or are suspended for abuse, meaning it’s often excluded from growth comparisons.

China would still be comfortably ahead of Germany’s .de, the next-largest “real” ccTLD, with 16.2 million domains.

CNNIC added that it ended 2018 with 1.72 million registered domains in .中国 (.xn--fiqs8s), which is the Chinese name for China and the country’s internationalized domain name ccTLD.

CNNC has been coy about its reg numbers for the last couple of years.

It stopped publishing monthly totals on its web site in February 2017, when it had 20.8 million .cn domains under management.

Charities “could move to .ngo” if .org prices rise

File this one under “wrong-headed argument of the day”.

The head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation reportedly has said that the recent removal of price increase caps at .org could lead to charities moving to other TLDs, “like .ngo”, which would cause confusion among charitable givers.

Rhodri Davies told The Telegraph (registration required) newspaper:

One of the benefits at the moment is you have at least at least one very well known and globally recognised domain name, that indicates to people that what they’re looking at is likely to be a charity or a social purpose organisation. If in the future, the pricing changes, and suddenly organisations have all sorts of different domain names, it’s going to be much harder for the public to know what it is they’re looking at. And that will get confusing and will probably have a negative impact on on people’s trust

The Telegraph gave .ngo (for non-governmental organization) as an example of a TLD they could move to. It’s not clear whether that was the example Davies gave or something the reporter came up with.

While Davies’ argument is of course sound — if charities were forced en masse to leave .org due to oppressive pricing, it would almost certainly lead to new opportunities for fraud — the choice of .ngo as an alternative destination is a weird one.

.ngo, like .org, is run by Public Interest Registry. It also runs .ong, which means the same thing in other languages.

But as 2012-round new gTLDs, neither .ngo or .ong have ever been subject to any pricing controls whatsoever.

At $30 a year, PIR’s wholesale price for .ngo is already a little more than three times higher than what it charges for .org domains. I find it difficult to imagine that .org will be the more expensive option any time soon.

.org domains currently cost $9.93 per year, and PIR has said it has no current plans to increase prices.

PIR does not have a monopoly on charity-related TLDs. Donuts runs .charity itself, which is believed to wholesale for $20 a year. It’s quite a new TLD, on the market for about a year, and has around 1,500 domains under management compared to .org’s 10 million.

Of course, .charity doesn’t have price caps either.

In the gTLD world, the only major TLDs left with ICANN-imposed price restrictions are Verisign’s .com and .net.