Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Verisign loses right to increase .com prices

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2012, Domain Registries

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.

Verisign defends .com price increases

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2012, Domain Registries

Verisign has assured investors that it is confident its .com registry agreement is not in jeopardy, after seeing its stock plummet due to uncertainties over the deal.

In a statement yesterday, the company also defended the planned continuation of its price-raising powers.

It emerged last week that the US Department of Commerce is looking into the pricing arrangements of the new .com deal, which ICANN approved back in June.

Commerce has the right — in consultation with the Department of Justice and others — to approve or reject the contract based on its security/stability and pricing terms.

Whatever happens, it’s virtually unthinkable that Verisign will lose the contract. The company said:

While the review process with the Commerce Department may extend beyond Nov. 30, 2012, it could also be concluded by Nov. 30, 2012. In either case, Verisign expects to continue to run the .com registry.

It also said that its ability to increase prices by 7% in four of the six years of the contract is in fact in the public interest, saying in a lengthy statement:

The .com registry has an unequaled record of achievement, with full availability of DNS resolution in .com for more than 15 consecutive years. The economic activity supported by the .com registry is significant by any measure in an environment where the consequences of a failure of even a very short duration or degradation of the Domain Name System (DNS) resolution service, due to either a cyber attack or failure of hardware, software, or personnel, would have significant economic and non-economic impacts to the global economy.

The level of security and stability offered by Verisign is only possible with investments in overcapacity and redundancy, network security, intellectual property (IP) and in human capital: The engineers and employees at Verisign who operate the .com registry and ensure its security and stability. The pricing terms of the .com Registry Agreement enable Verisign to make these investments, develop the necessary IP, know-how and purpose-built systems, respond to new threats to stability as they emerge, and recruit and retain the specialized talent necessary to maintain our network, including dozens of globally distributed constellation sites and data centers in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In essence, Verisign is saying that the security and stability record — which Commerce evidently has already reviewed to its satisfaction — are inextricably linked to its ability to raise prices.

The company’s share price fell 18% in the aftermath of last week’s news, but recovered slightly yesterday — gaining about 11% — after the statement was released.

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.