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US probing Verisign price hikes, .com contract may be extended

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2012, Domain Registries

The US Departments of Commerce and Justice are investigating the price increase provisions of Verisign’s .com registry agreement.

Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos disclosed the “review” on a conference call with financial analysts tonight.

It is likely that it will last beyond November 30 2012, the date the current .com agreement expires, he said.

“There’s a possibility it will not be complete by November 30,” he said.

A special six-month extension is likely to be triggered, he said.

“The status of our ability to operate .com is not an issue here,” he said.

He declined to comment on questions related to the likelihood that the company would be forced to change its pricing plans.

Verisign has spent $3.9 million in legal and other fees related to the US review, it emerged during the call.

ICANN approved the contract, which gives Verisign the right to increase its .com registry fees by 7% in four of the next six years, in June.

ICANN will see an extra $8 million in revenue from Verisign as a result.

Due to the special nature of .com, Justice and Commerce approval is required before the contract can be renewed. Verisign had previously expected that to come before November 30.

Verisign shares are trading down 14% in after-hours trading following the news.

Worldwide domains up to 240 million

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2012, Domain Registries

There are now more than 240 million registered domain names on the internet, according to Verisign.

Its latest Domain Name Industry Brief reports that a net of 7.3 million names were added across all TLDs in the second quarter, a 3.1% sequential increase, up 11.9% on Q2 2011.

Verisign’s own .com and .net hit 118.5 million domains by the end of June, up 1.6% sequentially and 7.8% year-over-year. Renewals were at 72.9%, down from 73.9% in Q1.

The company reported that new .com and .net registrations in the period totaled 8.4 million.

Why .com still doesn’t have a thick Whois

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors quizzed staff about the lack of a “thick” Whois obligation in Verisign’s .com contract, according to meeting minutes released last night.

The vote was 11-0 in favor, with four abstentions, when the board controversially approved the deal during the Prague meeting in June.

Director George Sadowsky raised the thick Whois issue, which has been a sharp wedge issue between non-commercial users and the intellectual property lobby, according to the minutes.

Senior vice president Kurt Pritz responded:

Kurt noted that while a requirement for a “thick” registry had been a topic of conversation among ICANN and Verisign, the ongoing GNSO Policy Development Process initiated on this same issue rendered this topic somewhat ill-suited for two-party negotiations. In addition, the current .COM registrants entered registration agreements with the understanding of .COM as thin registry, and the resultant change – along with the ongoing policy work – weighed in favor of leaving this issue to policy discussions.

In other words: thick Whois is best left to community policy-making.

Thick Whois is wanted by trademark holders because it will make it easier to enforce data accuracy rules down the road, while non-commercial stakeholders oppose it on privacy grounds.

Domainers, at least those represented by the Internet Commerce Association, have no objection to thick Whois in principle, but believe the policy should go through the GNSO process first.

Verisign is publicly neutral on the matter.

The ICANN board vote on .com was considered somewhat controversial in Prague because it took place before any substantial face-to-face community discussion on these issues.

Sadowsky abstained, stating: “I feel very uncomfortable going forward with provisions that will tie our hands, I think, in the long run without an attempt to reach an accommodation at this time.”

Three other directors (Tonkin, De La Chapelle and Vasquez) abstained from the vote due to actual or the potential for perceived conflicts of interest.

The .com agreement is currently in the hands of the US Department of Commerce which, uniquely for a gTLD, has approval rights over the contract. It’s expected to be renewed before the end of November.

Verisign demands 24/7 domain hijacking support

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Registrars

Verisign is causing a bit of a commotion among its registrar channel by demanding 24/7 support for customers whose .com domains have been hijacked.

The changes, we understand, are among a few being introduced into Verisign’s new registry-registrar agreement for .com, which coincides with the renewal of its registry agreement with ICANN.

New text in the RRA states that: “Registrar shall, consistent with ICANN policy, provide to Registered Name Holders emergency contact or 24/7 support information for critical situations such as domain name hijacking.”

From the perspective of registrants, this sounds like a pretty welcome move: who wouldn’t want 24/7 support?

While providing around the clock support might not be a problem for the Go Daddies of the world, some smaller registrars are annoyed.

For a registrar with a small headcount, perhaps servicing a single time zone, 24/7 support would probably mean needing to hire more staff.

Their annoyance has been magnified by the fact that Verisign seems to be asking for these new support commitments without a firm basis in ICANN policy, we hear.

The recently updated transfers policy calls for a 24/7 Transfer Emergency Action Contact — in many cases just a staff member who doesn’t mind being hassled about work at 2am — but that’s meant to be reserved for use by registrars, registries and ICANN.

Verisign reveals “dark” .com domains

Verisign has started publishing the daily count of .com and .net domain names that are registered but do not work.

On a new page on its site, the company is promising to break out how many domains are registered but do not currently show up in the zone files for its two main gTLDs.

These are sometimes referred to as “dark” domains.

As of yesterday, the number of registered and active .com domains stands at 103,960,994, and there are 145,980 more (about 0.14% of the total) that are registered but do not currently have DNS.

For .net, the numbers stand at 14,750,674 and 32,440 (0.22%).

Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts last night that the data is being released to “increase transparency” into the company’s performance.

Many tools available for tracking registration numbers in TLDs are skewed slightly by the fact that they rely on publicly available zone file data, which does not count dark domains.

Registry reports containing more accurate data are released monthly by ICANN, but they’re always three months old.