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.org now has no price caps, but “no specific plans” to raise prices

ICANN has rubber-stamped Public Interest Registry’s new .org contract, removing the price caps that have been in effect for the best part of two decades.

That’s despite a huge outcry against the changes, which saw the vast majority of respondents to ICANN’s public comment period condemn the removal of caps.

The new contract, signed yesterday, completely removes the section that limited PIR to a 10% annual price increase.

It also makes PIR pay the $25,000 annual ICANN fee that all the other registries have to pay. Its ICANN transaction tax remains at $0.25.

PIR, a non-profit which funnels money to the Internet Society, is now allowed to raise its wholesale registry fee by however much it likes, pretty much whenever it likes.

But PIR again insisted that it does not plan to screw over the registrants of its almost 11 million .org domains.

The company said in a statement:

Regarding the removal of price caps, we would like to underscore that Public Interest Registry is a mission driven non-profit registry and currently has no specific plans for any price changes for .ORG. Should there be a need for a sensible price increase at some point in the future, we will provide advanced notice to the public. The .ORG community is considered in every decision we make, and we are incredibly proud of the more than 15 years we have spent as a responsible steward of .ORG. PIR remains committed to acting in the best interest of the .ORG community for years to come.

That basically restates the comments it made before the contract was signed.

The current price of a .org is not public information, but PIR has told me previously that it’s under $10 a year and “at cost” registrar Cloudflare sells for $9.93 per year.

The last price increase was three years ago, reported variously as either $0.88 or $0.87.

ICANN received over 3,200 comments about the contract when it was first proposed, almost all of them opposed to the lifting of caps.

Opposition initially came from domainers alerted by an Internet Commerce Association awareness campaign, but later expanded to include general .org registrants and major non-profit organizations, as the word spread.

Notable support for the changes came from ICANN’s Business Constituency, which argued from its established position that ICANN should not be a price regulator, and from the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, which caps should remain but should be raised from the 10%-a-year limit.

There’s a bit of a meme doing the rounds that ICANN has been hit by “regulatory capture” in this case, following a blog post from ReviewSignal.com blogger Kevin Ohashi last week, which sought to demonstrate how those filing comments in favor of the new contract had a vested interest in the outcome (as if the thousands of .org registrants filing opposing comments did not).

But I find the argument a bit flimsy. Nobody fingered by Ohashi had any decision-making power here.

In fact, the decision appears to have been made almost entirely by ICANN employees (its lawyers and Global Domains Division staff) “in consultation with the ICANN board of directors”.

There does not appear to have been a formal vote of the board. If there was such a vote, ICANN has broke the habit of a lifetime and not published any details of the meeting at which it took place.

After the public comment period closed, ICANN senior director for gTLD accounts and services Russ Weinstein prepared and published this comment summary (pdf), which rounds up the arguments for and against the proposed changes to the contract, then attempts to provide justification for the fait accompli.

On the price caps, Weinstein argues that standardizing .org along the lines of most of the other 1,200 gTLDs in existence fits with ICANN’s mission to enable competition in the domain name industry and “depend upon market mechanisms to promote and sustain a competitive environment”.

He also states:

Aligning with the Base gTLD Registry Agreement would also afford protections to existing registrants. The registry operator must provide six months’ notice to registrars for price changes and enable registrants to renew for up to 10 years prior to the change taking effect, thus enabling a registrant to lock in current prices for up to 10 years in advance of a pricing change.

This appears to be misleading. While it’s true that the new contract has the six-month notice period for price increases, so did the old one.

The new contract language takes several sentences to say what the old version did in one, and may remove some ambiguity, but both describe the notice period and lock-in opportunity.

If there’s a problem with how the new .org contract was signed off, it appears to be the lack of transparency.

It’s signed by GDD senior VP Cyrus Namazi, but who made the ultimate decision to sign it despite the outrage? Namazi? CEO Göran Marby? It certainly doesn’t seem to have been put before the board for a formal vote.

What kind of “consultation” between GDD and the board occurred? Is it recorded or noted anywhere? Was the board briefed about the vast number of negative comments the price cap proposal elicited?

Are public comment periods, which almost never have any impact on the end result, just a sham?

In my view, .org (along with .com and .net) are special cases among gTLDs that deserve a more thorough, broad and thoughtful consideration than the new .org contract received.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 1600 UTC to correct information related to .org’s current wholesale price.

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CentralNic boosts reseller biz with $11.3 million Hexonet buy

CentralNic is to acquire rival reseller-based registrar Hexonet for up to €10 million ($11.3 million), its fourth acquisition in the last 12 months.

Hexonet has over 3.8 million domains under management, according to CentralNic, sold either directly or via one of its over 1,000 resellers.

Hexonet’s primary ICANN accreditation, 1API.net, was responsible for roughly 760,000 gTLD domains at the last count, but appeared to be on the decline.

CentralNic said its reseller business will grow by about 28% in terms of domains due to the deal.

Hexonet had revenue last year of about €16.5 million ($19.4 million) and EBIDTDA of about €0.8 million ($0.9 million), and will immediately contribute to the bottom line, CentralNic said.

But it’s probably not great news for everyone — in order to receive the full €10 million Hexonet had to slash €300,000 from its budget.

CentralNic is paying €7 million in cash now, covered by the €50 million bond it recently issued, and will pay another €3 million in either cash or shares (its choice) on the one-year anniversary of the deal closing, expected this month.

Hexonet has offices in Canada and close to CentralNic’s recently acquired Germany operations.

Hexonet also acts as the de facto exclusive registrar for a handful of dot-brands, including .audi, .volskwagen and .bugatti, relationships that one imagines CentralNic’s registry back-end business could try to leverage.

In the last year, CentralNic has acquired KeyDrive, TPP Wholesale and GlobeHosting.

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What happens in Vegas… gets released in .vegas

Dot Vegas is releasing 2,266 previously reserved .vegas domain names, most of which accord to a decidedly sleazy theme.

Based on my eyeball scan of the list, I’d say easily half of the names being released are related to pornography, prostitution, gambling, drugs, and venereal diseases.

A large number are also family-friendly terms related to travel, tourism and general commercial services.

On the release list are domains including taxi.vegas, rentals.vegas, motels.vegas, lucky.vegas and magic.vegas,

Registrars may be interested to know that domains such as register.vegas, name.vegas and names.vegas are also on the list.

Undisclosed premium prices will be charged for 283 of the names, with the rest hitting the market at the regular .vegas price, which at the top two registrars (GoDaddy and 101domain, each with about 38% market share) is about $70-$80 retail for renewals.

The registry said that the release is happening as part of “an ongoing effort to increase awareness and usage of .vegas domain names”.

.vegas has yet to top 22,000 domains under management and has been on the decline, volume-wise, since last July.

Because they’ve never been available before, the new domains will have to run through the ICANN-mandated Trademark Claims period first, enabling trademark owners to snap up their brand-matches first.

I did spot a few obvious brands — such as Playboy and ChatRoulette — on the list.

Dot Vegas expects this claims period to run from August 1, with the general availability November 1.

The X-rated part of list is actually surprising educational. I thought I knew all the words, but apparently not. Without leaving the T’s, who knew “tribbing”, “teabagging” and “thai beads” were things?

I feel so naive.

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ICANN gives .bj to Jeny

The ccTLD for Benin has been redelegated to the country’s government.

ICANN’s board of directors yesterday voted to hand over .bj to Autorité de Régulation des Communications Electroniques et de la Poste du Bénin, ARCEP, the nation’s telecoms regulator.

It had been in the hands of Benin Telecoms, the incumbent national telco, for the last 15 years, but authority over domain names was granted to ARCEP in legislation in 2017 and 2018.

A local ISP, Jeny, has been awarded the contract to run the registry.

According to IANA, Jeny was already running the registry before the redelegation request was even processed, so there’s no risk of the change of control affecting operations.

As usual with ccTLD redelegations, you’ll learn almost nothing from the ICANN board resolution. You’ll get a better precis of the situation from the IANA redelegation report.

Benin is a Francophone nation in West Africa with about 11 million inhabitants.

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1.8 million UK grandfathers die after Nominet deadline hits

The deadline for registering “grandfathered” second-level domains in .uk passed this morning, leaving at many as 1.88 million names unclaimed.

From June 2014 until 0500 UTC this morning, anyone who owned a third-level domain in zones such as .co.uk or .org.uk had rights to register the matching 2LD under .uk.

Those rights have all expired now, and all the unclaimed 2LDs will be returned to the available pool next month.

Four days ago, Nominet said that there were still 1.88 million rights that had not been exercised. That’s from the over 10 million 3LDs whose registrants were initially given rights.

In March, 3.2 million names were still unclaimed. It seems about 1.4 million names have been claimed, or expired, at the eleventh hour, almost all in June.

One way of looking at it is that the owners of almost one in five .co.uk domains either decided they didn’t want the matching 2LD, or were unaware that it was available.

But about half of the original domains with rights have since dropped, so the portion of current 3LD owners now at risk of confusion with their 2LD match could actually be more like four in 10.

At the end of May, 2,439,181 .uk domains had been registered (including non-grandfathered domains) and there were 9,729,224 names registered at the third level.

The 1.8 million unclaimed names will now be the subject of a landrush.

On July 1, Nominet will start releasing the names in batches, alphabetically.

Accredited registrars will start slamming the registry — Nominet has set up a separate set of EPP infrastructure purely for this expected onslaught — with requests to register the most-valuable names.

Some registrars have been taking pre-registrations and will auction any names they successfully claim to the customers who put in pre-orders.

After a week, any names not already claimed by registrars will be released to the public, again in batches, starting from July 8.

The system has been criticized by smaller registrars, many of which believe Nominet is giving its larger registrars a much better chance at winning the good names simply because they have deeper pockets.

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