Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

PIR says it has no plans to raise .org prices

Public Interest Registry claims it has no plans to raise its wholesale fee for .org domains, in the face of outrage from domainers and non-profits.

Under a proposed renegotiated contract with ICANN, price caps that have limited PIR to a 10% price increase every year would be removed.

But in a statement last week, the company said:

Rest assured, we will not raise prices unreasonably. In fact, we currently have no specific plans for any price increases for .ORG. We simply are moving to the standard registry agreement with all of its applicable provisions that already is in place for more than 1,200 other top-level domain extensions.

This does not necessarily translate to a commitment to not raise prices, of course. PIR may have “no specific plans” today, but it may tomorrow.

Over 3,300 people and organizations filed comments with ICANN about the proposed removal of the price caps, almost all of them negative.

Comments came initially from domain investors, but they were soon joined by many non-profit .org registrants and others.

Most claimed that it was unfair to allow unlimited price increases in legacy, pre-2012 gTLDs such as .org, which can be seen more as a public trust.

PIR went on to point out in its letter that it has not raised its prices — believed to be still under $10 a year — for the last three years.

But it might be worth noting that senior management has changed in that period. Brian Cute left the CEO job a year ago and, after an interim caretaker manager, was replaced by Donuts alumnus Jon Nevett in December.

.org’s registration numbers have been dipping. Over the last three years, it’s dropped from a peak of 11.3 million to 10.6 million at the end of 2018.

But it’s also renegotiated its back-end contract with Afilias over that period, meaning it’s now paying millions less on technical running costs than it once was.

PIR also reiterates that, like many of its customers, it is also a non-profit that is not motivated by investors and share prices.

More than half of its profits go to fund the Internet Society, itself a non-profit organization.

“We are different. We are mission based and not every decision is a financial one; we are not just driven by the bottom line,” its statement says.

PIR says that registrants are also protected by the measure in all ICANN gTLD contracts that allows registrants to lock in prices for up to 10 years in the event of a price increase, and by the fact that .org operates in a competitive market.

Reasonable people can and do disagree on whether these are effective protections in a case like .org.

Non-coms say .org price cap should be RAISED

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2019, Domain Registries

With the entire domain name community apparently split along binary lines on the issue of price caps in .org, a third option has emerged from a surprising source.

ICANN’s Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group has suggested that price caps should remain, but that they should be raised from their current level of 10% per year.

In its comments to ICANN (pdf), NCSG wrote that it would “not object to the price cap being raised by a reasonable level”, adding:

Rather than removing price caps from the agreement entirely, these should be retained but raised by an appropriate amount. In addition, this aspect of the contract should be subject to a review midway through the contract, based on the impact of the price changes on non-profit registrants.

The NCSG does not quote a percentage or dollar value that it would consider “reasonable” or “appropriate”.

The letter notes that Public Interest Registry, which runs .org, uses some of its registration money to fund NCSG’s activities.

The NCSG disagrees with the decision to remove price cap provisions in the current .org agreement. On the one hand, we recognize the maturation of the domain name market, and the need for Public Interest Registry to capitalize on the commercial opportunities available to it. Public Interest Registry, as a non-profit entity, supports many excellent causes (including, it is worth noting, the NCSG). On the other hand, as the home for schools, community organizations, open-source projects, and other non-profit entities that are run on shoestring budgets, this registry should not necessarily operate under the same commercial realities that guide other domains. Fees should remain affordable, with domains which are priced within reach of everyone, no matter how few resources they have. Consequently, we support leaving the price cap provisions in place. We would not object to the price cap being raised by a reasonable level.

Basically, the ICANN community group nominally representing precisely .org’s target market doesn’t mind prices going up, just as long as PIR doesn’t get greedy.

It’s slightly surprising, to me, to find NCSG on the middle ground here.

There are currently over 3,250 comments on the renewal of PIR’s registry contract with ICANN — coming from domainers, individual registrants, and large and small non-profit organizations — almost all of which are firmly against the removal of price caps.

The only comments I’ve been able to find in favor of the scrapping of caps came from the Business Constituency. Intellectual property interests had no opinion.

I don’t believe the registries and registrars stakeholder groups filed consensus comments, but Tucows did file an individual comment (pdf) objecting to the removal of caps.

Non-profits worth $2.6 billion a year say .org price caps should stay

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registries

Eight large US-based non-profits, several of them household names, have put their names to a letter demanding that Public Interest Registry should not be allowed to increase its .org registry fees beyond 10% a year.

Combined, these eight outfits have revenue of roughly $2.6 billion per year.

PIR’s fees are currently under $10 per domain per year. It has roughly 10.6 million names under management.

The organizations signing the letter are TV network C-SPAN, broadcaster NPR, conservation charity the National Trust for Historic Preservation, retired persons advocate the AARP, environmental groups the National Geographic Society, the Conservation Fund and Oceana, and disco legends YMCA of the USA.

In a joint letter, submitted as part of ICANN’s public comment period on the renewal of PIR’s .org contract, they write:

We agree with the current .org registry operator, the Public Interest Registry, that the .org gTLD “has assumed the reputation as the domain of choice for organisations dedicated to serving the public interest.” We have come to rely on this reputation to help distinguish the online presence of our organizations from the online presence of organizations that are not intended to serve the public interest. As nonprofit organizations, we also have come to rely on the certainty and predictability of reasonable domain name registration expenses when allocating our limited resources.

Sourced from Wikipedia and tax returns, here’s how much revenue these non-profits bring in per year:

  • NPR — $208 million (2016)
  • C-SPAN — $73.2 million (2014)
  • YMCA of the USA — $169.5 million (2017)
  • National Geographic Society — $188 million (2017)
  • AARP — $1.6 billion (2016)
  • The Conservation Fund — $238 million (2017)
  • Oceana — $53 million (2017)
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation — $62.9 million (2017)

Limited resources indeed.

The deadline for comments is midnight UTC tonight, about two hours from the dateline on this post.

These people support scrapping .org price caps

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registries

The first examples of people supporting the scrapping of price caps in .org have emerged.

ICANN’s Business Constituency and Intellectual Property Constituency have both in the last few hours filed comments on the proposed renewal of Public Interest Registry’s .org contract, which includes the controversial removal of the current 10%-a-year price caps.

The BC expresses outright support for the end of caps — the first example I’ve seen of explicit support for the move — while the IPC utterly fails to address it.

A prominent US antitrust lawyer has also weighed in to claim that approving the new provisions would not raise competition concerns.

Both the IPC and BC seem happy to accept the proposed pricing regime, given that PIR’s new contract will also include new rights protection mechanisms, such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension process.

The BC wrote in its comment to ICANN:

Given the BC’s established position that ICANN should not be a price regulator, and considering that .ORG and .INFO are adopting RPMs and other registrant provisions we favor, the BC supports broader implementation of the Base Registry Agreement, including removal of price controls

Seemingly uninterested in price caps whatsoever, the IPC wrote:

The IPC applauds Public Interest Registry and other Registry Operators that choose to implement enhanced rights protection mechanisms for third party trademark owners, and to take on enhanced responsibilities for the Registry Operator to prevent use of registrations for abusive purposes, including but not limited to violations of intellectual property rights.

From outside the ICANN community, Washington DC-based antitrust attorney David Balto, a former Federal Trade Commission official, has submitted a brief analysis in which he finds little to be concerned about from a competition perspective. He writes:

An analysis of the .org gTLD under competition would likely find that it has little market power, and thus would be unable to unreasonably raise prices. Any attempt to do so should result in users defecting to alternative gTLDs.

Users have ample protections in the form of marketplace competition and contract provisions that allow users to be notified of price increases and lock in rates for up to ten years.

These arguments stand in stark contrast to those made by many in the domainer community, such as in Andrew Allemann’s post today.

Balto says that “market power” — a legal test under US competition law — starts to kick in at about 30% market share. But .org only has about 5.5%, he wrote.

The lawyer does not identify a client affiliation in his letter.

With just a few hours left on the clock before public comments close, there have been 3,129 submitted comments, the vast majority coming from domain investors.

Some non-profit groups have also registered their objections.

.org price anger comments top 3,000 as non-profits weigh in

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registries

The proposal to remove price caps from .org domains has now attracted more than 3,000 angry comments, and it’s not just domainers who are feeling the outrage.

Non-profit groups have now also submitted objections to the ICANN proposal, which would remove the 10%-a-year price increase limit that Public Interest Registry is currently subject to.

At least two organizations, which together claim to represent over 32,000 non-profits, have rejected the pricing plan since I first posted about it last week.

The National Council of Nonprofits is a support network for around 25,000 organizations in the US.

Its VP of public policy, David Thompson, told ICANN that price increases in .org would funnel money to PIR away from worthy causes:

Quite literally, the profits derived by this unwarranted change will ultimately be paid by the people nonprofits will not be able to serve. Every $1 in increased prices on the 10+ million .org domain users would generate more revenue each year than is utilized by all but the top one-percent of charitable nonprofits. Each one-dollar hike in costs per domain would divert more than $10 million from nonprofit missions for the enrichment of the monopoly. By anyone’s estimate, this money would be better spent delivering an additional 1,600,000 meals by Meals on Wheels to seniors to help maintain their health, independence and quality of life. Or $10 million could enable nonprofits to provide vision screenings for every two- and three-year-olds in California. Or pay for one million middle school students to attend performances of “Hamilton” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Nonprofits should not need to choose between paying for a domain name and helping people.

He said that ICANN should not treat .org the same way as commercial domain registries simply in order to normalize its registry agreements, when .org has a public-interest purpose.

It’s probably worth noting that even under the existing 10% price increase limit, PIR would be able to raise its prices by almost $1 in the first year anyway.

The American Society of Association Executives is a trade association that represents trade associations in the US. It says it has 44,000 individual members from 7,400 organizations.

Its president, John Graham, told ICANN that .org, as a legacy gTLD that PIR spent no money to acquire, should not have the same pricing flexibility as gTLDs that have gone live more recently:

It’s true that registry operators that won the right to sponsor new gTLDs can charge whatever price they see fit, but they also paid millions of dollars in some cases to acquire all of the value in their sponsored domain names, whereas the service contractors managing legacy domain names most assuredly did not. This is a crucial difference that ICANN should take great care to enforce.

Stating that nonprofit organizations can easily switch from one domain name to another if they don’t like the pricing structure ignores the reality that established nonprofits have a longstanding Internet presence built on a .org domain name — a name and online reputation that the organization (not the registry operator) has spent decades cultivating.

Ayden Férdeline, who sits on the GNSO Council representing non-commercial interests commented in his personal capacity to say that while he does not necessarily expect PIR to exploit the customers of its 10 million .org domains:

To exploit these organizations and to have them paying substantially more every year to maintain their domain names would have a detrimental impact on the public’s ability to obtain information and services, and could see smaller non-profit organizations either stop renewing their domain names altogether or moving away from the Domain Name System to proprietary platforms like Facebook.

These were some of the most significant voices from outside the domain investment community that I’ve been able to find from my trawl of the 3,105 comments that had been submitted as of time of writing.

At least 700 of these comments, likely hundreds more, were filed via a form-letter submission tool created by the Internet Commerce Association. Others seem to have been inspired by coverage in the domainer blogosphere and on social media platforms.

Please let me know in the comments or privately if you’ve seen any comments opposing or supporting the price increases from any other major non-domainer organizations.

Of the larger domainers, I spotted that Nat Cohen of Telepathy echoed the views of many, writing:

The legacy domain names, including .info and .org, were handed over to ICANN as trustee to manage for the public benefit. ICANN has betrayed that trust by turning .org over to an organization, that no matter how worthy its mission, will have the unchecked ability to extract vast sums from the base of .org registrants, many of which are non-profits with worthy missions in their own right.

The public comment period ends tonight at midnight UTC. That’s about seven hours from the timestamp on this post.

PIR declined to comment for this article.