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Cloudflare selling all domains at cost: “All we’re doing is pinging an API”

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2018, Domain Registrars

Content delivery network provider Cloudflare has promised to sell domains in all TLDs at the wholesale cost, with no markup, forever.

The company made the commitment yesterday as it announced its intention to get into the registrar business.

Founder Matthew Price used the announcement to launch a blistering attack on the current registrar market, which he said is charging “crazy” prices and endlessly upselling their customers with unwanted, worthless products. He blogged:

why should registrars charge any markup over what the TLDs charge? That seemed as nutty to us as certificate authorities charging to run a bit of math. When we see a broken market on the Internet we like to do something about it.

we promise to never charge you anything more than the wholesale price each TLD charges. That’s true the first year and it’s true every subsequent year. If you register your domain with Cloudflare Registrar you’ll always pay the wholesale price with no markup.

For instance, Verisign, which administers the .com TLD, currently charges $7.85 per year to register a .com domain. ICANN imposes a $0.18 per year fee on top of that for every domain registered. Today, if you transfer your .com domain to Cloudflare, that’s what we’ll charge you per year: $8.03/year. No markup. All we’re doing is pinging an API, there’s no incremental cost to us, so why should you have to pay more than wholesale?

There are catches, of course.

For starters, the service is not available yet.

Price wrote that Cloudflare will roll it out gradually — for inbound transfers only — to its “most loyal” customers over an unspecified period. Even customers on its cheapest plans will get access to the queue, he wrote.

Eventually, he said, it will be available “more broadly”.

It will be interesting to see if the no-markup pricing could become available to non-customers too, and whether it sticks to its business model when its support lines start ringing and it becomes apparent the business is actually big ole cash vampire.

Cloudflare has been ICANN-accredited for several years, but it’s only been offering registrations to high-value enterprise customers so far.

My records show that it has not much more than 800 domains under management, all in .com, .net, .org and .info.

The announcement was made, perhaps not coincidentally, a couple days after CRM software provider Zoho made headlines when its 40 million customers were taken offline because its former registrar suspended zoho.com over a trivial level of abuse. In response to the screw-up, Zoho transferred the domain to Cloudflare.

Verisign confirms first price increase under new .net contract

Verisign is to increase the wholesale price of an annual .net domain registration by 10%, the company confirmed yesterday.

It’s the first in an expected series of six annual 10% price hikes permitted under its recently renewed registry agreement with ICANN.

The annual price of a .net registration, renewal, or transfer will go up from $8.20 to $9.02, effective February 1, 2018

If all six options are exercised, the price of a .net would be $15.27 by the time the current contract expires, including the $0.75 ICANN fee. It would be $14.52 without the ICANN fee.

The increase was confirmed by CEO Jim Bidzos as Verisign reported its second-quarter earnings yesterday.

For the quarter, Verisign saw net income go up to $123 million from $113 million a year ago, on revenue that was up 0.7% at $289 million.

It now has cash of $1.8 billion, up $11 million on a year ago.

It ended the quarter with 144.3 million .com and .net names in its registry, up 0.8% on last year and 0.68 million sequentially.

.net price increases approved

Verisign has been given the right to continue to raise the wholesale price of .net domains.

It now seems likely the price charged to registrars will top $15 by 2023.

ICANN’s board of directors at the weekend approved the renewal of the .net Registry Agreement, which gives Verisign the right increase its prices by 10% per year for the six years of the contract.

Assuming the company exercises all six options — and there’s no reason to assume it will not — the price of a .net would be $15.27 by the time the contract expires, $0.75 of which would be paid to ICANN in fees.

There was some negative public comment (pdf) about the increases, largely from domainers and those representing domainers, but the ICANN board saw nothing to persuade it to change the terms of the contract.

In notes appended to its resolution, the board stated:

the Board understands that the current price cap provisions in Verisign’s Registry Agreements, including in the .NET Registry Agreement, evolved historically to address various market factors in cooperation with constituencies beyond ICANN including the Department of Commerce. During the negotiations for the renewal, Verisign did not request to alter the pricing cap provisions, the parties did not negotiate these provisions and the provisions remain changed from the previous agreement. The historical 10% price cap was arguably included to allow the Registry Operator to increase prices to account for inflation and increased costs/investments and to take into account other market forces but were not dictated solely by ICANN.

(I assume the word “changed” in that quote should have read “unchanged”.)

Unlike contract renewals for other pre-2012 gTLDs, the .net contract does not include any of the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms, such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

ICANN explained this disparity by saying these mechanisms are not consensus policies and that it has no right to impose them on legacy gTLD registry operators.

Verisign to keep price increase power under new .net contract

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2017, Domain Registries

The wholesale price of a .net domain is likely to top $15 by 2023, under a proposed renewal of its ICANN contract revealed today.

ICANN-imposed price caps are staying in the new Registry Agreement, but Verisign retains the right to increase its fees by 10% in each of the six years of the deal’s lifespan.

But domain investors do have at least one reason to be cheerful — while the contract adds many features of the standard new gTLD registry agreement, it does not include a commitment to implement the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting procedure.

The current .net annual fee charged to registrars is $8.95 — $8.20 for Verisign, $0.75 for ICANN — but Verisign will continue to be allowed to increase its portion by up to 10% a year.

That means the cost of a .net could hit $15.27 wholesale (including the $0.75 ICANN fee) by the time the proposed contract expires in 2023.

Verisign has form when it comes to utilizing its price-raising powers. It exercised all six options under its current contract, raising its share of the fee from $4.65 in 2011.

On the bright side for volume .net holders, the prices increases continue to be predictable. ICANN has not removed the price caps.

Also likely to cheer up domainers is the fact that there are no new intellectual property protection mechanisms in the proposed contract.

Several post-2000 legacy gTLDs have agreed to incorporate the URS into their new contracts, leading to outrage from domainer organization the Internet Commerce Association.

ICA is worried that URS will one day wind up in .com without a proper ICANN community consensus, opening its members up to more risk of losing valuable domains.

The fact that URS is not being slipped into the .net contract makes it much less likely to be forced on .com too.

But Verisign has agreed to several mostly technical provisions that bring it more into line with the standard 2012-round new gTLD RA.

For example, it appears that daily .net zone files will become accessible via ICANN’s Centralized Zone Data Service before the end of the year.

Verisign has also agreed to standardize the format of its data escrow, Whois and monthly transaction reports.

The company has also agreed to start discussions about handing .net over to an emergency back-end operator in the event it files for bankruptcy.

The current contract is due to expire at the end of June and the proposed new deal would kick in July 1.

It’s now open for public comment until June 13.

Uniregistry to grandfather existing domains before big price increases

Uniregistry has backtracked on its plan to hike renewal fees on thousands of domain name registrations.

CEO Frank Schilling described the U-turn, which followed a ferocious backlash from domain investors, as “the right thing to do”.

The company had announced price increases across 16 of its 27 gTLDs that in one case exceeded 3,000% but in many more cases represented increases in the hundreds of percent.

The increases were to apply to new and renewing registrations, and Schilling had said that they were necessary to keep the affected TLDs afloat.

But domainers were furious, taking to blogs and message boards to announce and decry the death of all new gTLDs.

Leading registrar Go Daddy soon said that it would no longer sell Uniregistry TLDs, at least temporarily.

But yesterday Uniregistry announced a change of heart, providing an unusually detailed account of the thought process leading to the price increases that’s worth quoting at length.

“The registration providers we consulted reported that differentiating prices based on the time of the registration was technically difficult and confusing for customers,” said Bret Fausett, head of the Registry Services Team. “Based on that feedback, and considering the small number of registrants affected, we made the difficult decision to raise prices for all registrants.”

“After the announcement, however, we, and our registration partners, have heard clearly from our end users that the ability to register ten-years at the existing price does not ameliorate the pain of subsequent price increases for registrants facing substantial price increases,” said Mr. Fausett. “So, for the names in our highest-priced tiers, the price changes will affect only new registrations. We are asking our registration partners to do whatever is necessary to enable this approach.”

“Creating a legacy tier of prices for inaugural registrants in our niche, premium top-level domains is technically more difficult,” said Frank Schilling, Managing Director of Uniregistry, “but it’s the right thing to do for those pioneering individuals and companies who have staked their claims in the new Internet real estate.”

In other words, if you register a name in the affected gTLDs before September 8, your renewal fee will be at the current lower level.

Whether this will be enough to mitigate Uniregistry’s reputational damage in the domainer community remains to be seen.

But the company also said it plans to overhaul its premium names pricing by the end of the second quarter, scrapping the multi-tier pricing approach in favor of a one-size-fits-all menu.

Schilling said that price reductions will affect “millions” of reserved names and mean “hundreds of millions” of dollars of hypothetical value have been wiped from the portfolio.