Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Three big registries will take down opioid domains for US govt

Verisign, Public Interest Registry and Neustar (now part of GoDaddy) will suspend domain names being used to illegally sell opioids under a pilot scheme with the US government.

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that this new “trusted notifier” program will go into effect for 120 days.

When the FDA finds a site suspected of selling opioids illegally, it will notify the registry as well as the web site’s owner and hosting provider.

The registries will then be able to decide whether to suspend the domain or not. It’s voluntary.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will also take part in the project.

Verisign runs .com and .net, PIR runs .org and Neustar runs .us, .co and .biz.

Opioids are legal, pharmaceutical pain-killers derived from opium. They’re ridiculously addictive and account for as many drug overdose deaths in the US as heroin, but are over-prescribed by US doctors.

It’s not the first time registries have agreed to trusted notifier programs. Some new gTLD registries have deals with the movie and music industries to suspend domains involved in copyright infringement.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after ICANN rejected a deal that would have seen PIR create a community oversight body with responsibilities to monitor domain-suspension policies in .org.

Verisign says its coronavirus fee waivers have saved businesses millions

Verisign has decided to extend the temporary fee waiver it introduced in April for another two months, declaring the scheme a success so far.

On April 2, the company said it would no longer charge a fee when a registrant restores a domain in the period between expiration and deletion. Many registrars passed this on to their customers.

The stated goal of the offer was to help out registrants laid low by coronavirus.

“We estimate these restore fee waivers have already saved several million dollars for registrants of all types, including hard hit small businesses,” Verisign said in a blog post yesterday.

The service typically retails for around $80, so we’re talking about tens of thousands of domains that have been restored post-expiration for free over the space of two months.

Now, Verisign says the offer, which had been due to expire at the start of June, will end on August 1.

The company added that it will also waive the restore fees for names in .cc, .tv, .name and its four IDN gTLDs effective June 1.

Industry growth driven by new gTLD(s) in Q1

The number of domain names registered worldwide increased by 4.5 million in the first quarter, a sequential growth of 1.2%, largely due to new gTLDs and one new gTLD in particular, judging by Verisign’s latest data.

According to the company’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, ShortDot’s .icu grew by 1.6 million domains during the quarter.

That’s more than half the growth of the new gTLDs as a whole, which grew by three million names to close March at 32.3 million.

.icu is one of those inexplicable, faddy Chinese phenomena. Its top registrar, West.cn, is currently selling them for the equivalent of $0.70 for the first year.

It’s now the eighth-largest TLD of any type, sitting on the DNIB league table between .org and .nl.

Fellow Chinese favorite .top was responsible for about 300,000 extra domains, though it’s lost most of that growth post-quarter, if zone files are any guide.

.xyz also appears to have had a decent quarter, growing by a couple hundred thousand names.

Verisign’s own .com contributed an additional 1.9 million domains, ending Q1 at 147.3 million. Baby brother .net was basically flat at 13.4 million.

The ccTLD space continued the decline of the last few quarters, coming in down 200,000 names at 157.4 million. Annually, ccTLDs were up by 600,000 names, however.

Overall, there were 366.8 million domain registrations in the world at the end of Q1, an increase of 14.9 million or 4.2% compared to the same moment last year.

Verisign expects to sell fewer domains because of coronavirus

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2020, Domain Registries

Verisign doesn’t expect its domain name base to grow as fast as previously expected this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday night, it ever so slightly downgraded its guidance for the year, saying it expects domains to grow by between 2% and 3.75%, compared to a previous high-end estimate of 4%.

It’s not a lot, but given how many domains Verisign has under management it still adds up to hundreds of thousands of domains and a few million in lost potential revenue.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts that the updated guidance reflected a “more cautious” outlook given the “uncertainty presented by Covid-19”.

It’s encouraging news for anyone wondering how the pandemic will effect the domain industry: the market-leading registry does not expect a big impact.

Verisign’s domain base totaled 160.7 million at the end of the quarter — 147.3 million in .com and 13.4 million in .net — which equates to growth of 3.8% over Q1 2019.

The growth is coming from .com — total .net regs were down by about 400,000 year over year.

The update came during Verisign’s first-quarter earnings call, which once again showed the .com registry printing money. It even managed to report net income higher than revenue, due to some quirks in its historical tax recognition.

For the three months to March 31, the company had net income of $334 million, compared to $163 million a year earlier, on revenue that was up 2% at $313 million.

Even discounting that bottom-line tax-related boost of $168 million, profits were up. Operating income was $206 million, up 3%, and the operating margin was up from 65.4% to 66%.

Even before the perhaps inevitable price increases next year, Verisign’s still managing to grow its margins organically, demonstrating that any prices hikes will be going straight to its bottom line and its shareholders’ pockets.

The company bought back $245 million of stock during the quarter and has another $826 million tucked away for further repurchases.

ICANN declares coronavirus a “natural disaster” to protect expired domains

Registrants unable to renew their domain names when they expire may not lose them, following a decree from ICANN today.

The organization has declared the coronavirus a “natural disaster” and invoked part of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement that permits registrars to keep hold of domains that have come to the end of their post-expiration renewal period.

Under the RAA, registrars have to delete domains a maximum of 45 days after the reg period expires, unless there are “extenuating circumstances” such as an ongoing UDRP case, lawsuit or technical stability dangers.

There’s no accounting for natural disasters in the contract, but ICANN has the discretion to name any “other circumstance as approved specifically by ICANN” an extenuating circumstance. That’s what it’s done here.

It’s invoked this provision once before, following Hurricane Maria in late 2017.

ICANN said that policies to specifically protect domains in the event of natural disasters should be considered.

The new coronavirus exception applies to all registrars in all gTLDs, although implementation will vary by registrar.

The announcement follows Verisign’s announcement last week that it is waiving its registry-level restore fee for .com and .net domains until June 1.

ICANN expects “significant” budget impact from coronavirus

Kevin Murphy, April 7, 2020, Domain Policy

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is expected to have a “significant” impact on ICANN’s budget, according to an update from the organization.

The organization published its expectations of a $140.4 million budget for the fiscal year that begins this July last December, and opened it up for public comments.

In its summary of those comments (pdf), which had a February 25 deadline and therefore were not focused on the pandemic’s potential impact, ICANN said:

the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting significantly the entire world. ICANN expects that its activities and financial position will be significantly impacted as well. The ICANN org is working with the Board to assess and monitor the potential impact to ICANN’s funding, and planned work such as face-to-face meetings, travel, etc.

Any pandemic-related changes to the budget will be published prior to board approval, ICANN said.

So where is ICANN expecting the impact? It’s not entirely clear. I would expect to see some minor gains from slashing its travel budget in the wake of social distance rules, but it’s less obvious where a “significant” shortfall could occur.

ICANN had operational revenue — the money it gets from billing registries and registrars — of $136.8 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, its most recently reported year (pdf).

Of that total, roughly $56 million came from the market leaders in both segments, Verisign and GoDaddy, both of which have been given glowing analyst coverage since the outbreak began.

One commentator recently wrote that Verisign is “immune” from coronavirus and GoDaddy’s CFO told analysts just last week that he expects the impact of coronavirus to be “minimal” in the first quarter. That could of course change in future.

Almost half of ICANN’s revenue, some $65.7 million, comes from the top 10 registries and registrars.

So is ICANN expecting to see weakness in the long tail, the few thousand accredited registrars and gTLD registries that account for under $1 million in ICANN contributions per year? Is it expecting reduced voluntary contributions from the ccTLDs and Regional Internet Registries?

Will coronavirus cause huge numbers of small businesses to abandon their domains as they go out of business? Will it inspire large numbers of the recently unemployed and quarantined to start up web-based businesses in an attempt to put food on the table? Will it cause large portfolio owners to downsize to save costs?

All of these outcomes seem possible, but these are unprecedented times, and I couldn’t being to guess how it will play out.

ICANN grants Verisign its price increases, of course

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2020, Domain Registries

ICANN has given Verisign its ability to increase .com prices by up to 7% a year, despite thousands of complaints from domain owners.

The amendments give Verisign the right to raise prices in each of the last four years of its six-year duration. The current price is $7.85 a year.

Because the contract came into effect in late 2018, the first of those four years begins October 26 this year, but Verisign last week said that it has frozen the prices of all of its TLDs until 2021, due to coronavirus.

Not accounting for discounts, .com is already already worth $1.14 billion in revenue to Verisign every year, based on its end-of-2019 domains under management.

In 2019, Verisign had revenue of $1.23 billion, of which about half was pure, bottom-line, net-income profit.

In defending this shameless money-grab, ICANN played up the purported security benefits of the deal, while offering a critique of the domainers and registrars that had lobbied against it.

Göran Marby, ICANN’s CEO, said in a blog post.

I believe this decision is in the best interest of the continued security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet.

Overall, the decision to execute the .COM Registry Agreement amendment and the proposed binding Letter of Intent is of benefit to the Internet community.

The decision was explained in more detail in a eight-page analysis document (pdf) published late last week.

I’ll summarize this paper in three bullet points (my words, not ICANN’s):

  • Domainers are hypocrites.
  • The deal is good for DNS security.
  • Our hands were tied anyway.

First, while ICANN received over 9,000 comments about the proposed amendment, almost all negative, it said that publicity campaigns from domainer group the Internet Commerce Association and domainer registrar Namecheap were behind many of them.

the Internet Commerce Association (ICA) and Namecheap, are active players in the so called “aftermarket” for domain names, where domain name speculators attempt to profit by “buying low and selling high” on domain names, forcing end users to pay higher than retail prices for desirable domain names

It goes on to cite data from NameBio, which compiles lists of secondary market domain sales, to show that the average price of a resold domain is somewhere like $1,600 (median) to $2,400 (mean).

Both Namecheap and ICA supporter GoDaddy, which sells more .coms than any other registrar, have announced steep increases in their .com retail renewal fees in recent years — 20% in the case of GoDaddy — the ICANN document notes.

This apparent hypocrisy appears to be reason ICANN felt quite comfortable in disregarding many of the negative public comments it received.

Second, ICANN reckons other changes to the .com contract will benefit internet security.

Under a side deal (pdf) Verisign’s going to start giving ICANN $4 million a year, starting next January and running for five years, for what Marby calls “ICANN’s initiatives to preserve and enhance the security, stability, and resiliency of the DNS.” These include:

activities related to root server system governance, mitigation of DNS security threats, promotion and/or facilitation of Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) deployment, the mitigation of name collisions, and research into the operation of the DNS.

Note that these are without exception all areas in which ICANN already performs functions, usually paid for out of its regular operating budget.

Because it looks like to all intents and purposes like a quid pro quo, to grease the wheels of getting the contract amendments approved, Marby promised that ICANN will commit to “full transparency” as to how its new windfall will be used.

The new contract also has various new provisions that standardize technical standardization and reporting in various ways, that arguably could provide some minor streamlining benefits to internet security and stability.

But ICANN is playing up new language that requires Verisign to require its registrars to forbid their .com registrants from doing stuff like distributing malware and operating botnets. Verisign’s registrar partners will now have to include in their customer agreements:

a provision prohibiting the Registered Name Holder from distributing malware, abusively operating botnets, phishing, pharming, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement, fraudulent or deceptive practices, counterfeiting or otherwise engaging in activity contrary to applicable law and providing (consistent with applicable law and any related procedures) consequences for such activities, including suspension of the registration of the Registered Name;

Don’t expect this to do much to fight abuse.

It’s already a provision that applies to hundreds of other TLDs, including almost all gTLDs, and registrars typically incorporate it into their registration agreements by way of a link to the anti-abuse policy on the relevant registry’s web site.

Neither Verisign nor its registrars have any obligation to actually do anything about abusive domains under the amendments. As long as Verisign does a scan once a month and keeps a record of the total amount of abuse in .com — and this is data ICANN already has — it’s perfectly within the terms of its new contract.

Third and finally, ICANN reckons its hands were pretty much tied when it comes to the price increases. ICANN wrote:

ICANN org is not a competition authority or price regulator and ICANN has neither the remit nor expertise to serve as one. Rather, as enshrined in ICANN’s Bylaws, which were
developed through a bottom up, multistakeholder process, ICANN’s mission is to ensure the security and stability of the Internet’s unique identifier systems. Accordingly, ICANN must defer to relevant competition authorities and/or regulators, and let them determine if any conduct or behavior raises anticompetition concerns and, if so, to address such concerns, whether it be through price regulation or otherwise. As such, ICANN org has long-deferred to the DOC and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) for the regulation of wholesale pricing for .COM registry services.

It was of course the DoC, under the Obama administration, that froze Verisign’s ability to raise prices and, under the Trump administration, thawed that ability in November 2018.

If you’re pissed off that the carrying cost of your portfolio is about to go up, you can blame Trump, in other words.

No .com price increases this year. Thanks, coronavirus!

Kevin Murphy, March 26, 2020, Domain Registries

Verisign won’t increase prices on .com or any of its other TLDs this year.

The promise comes as part of a package of coronavirus-related measures the company announced on its blog yesterday. Verisign said:

In order to support individuals and small businesses affected by this crisis, Verisign will freeze registry prices for all of our Top-Level Domains (TLDs), including .com and .net, through the end of 2020. In addition, we will soon deploy a program, available to all retail registrars, to provide support and assistance for domain name registrants whose domain names will be expiring in the coming months.

No additional details on the proposed registrant support program were made available.

The pricing news sounds good, especially for high-volume domain owners such as domainers and trademark owners, but it should be noted that in the case of .com it amounts to a mere two-month price freeze.

Under the terms of its current agreement with ICANN, it can’t raise prices at all. The controversial proposed amendments that recently attracted about 9,000 objections, would reinstate price-raising powers.

However, assuming ICANN approves the new contract, which seems likely, Verisign would only be able to up its fees in the final four years of its six-year deal. The first of those four years begins October 20 this year.

Conceivably, it could have announced a 7% price hike for .com on October 21, but the company has now said that it will not.

Verisign also said yesterday that it’s donating an “initial” $2 million to “first responders and medical personnel in the Northern Virginia area, the United Way’s COVID-19 relief efforts, and the Semper Fi & America’s Fund”.

It is also doubling the funding available to the scheme where it matches employees’ charitable donations, which could increase (and incentivize) giving to coronavirus-related causes.

Verisign shits on domainers, again

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2020, Domain Registries

It’s probably no exaggeration to say that Verisign makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year from .com domain investors, and yet it’s been developing a habit in recent years of shitting on them whenever it serves its purpose.

The company’s submission to ICANN’s just-closed public comment period on the proposed new .com contract, which re-enables Verisign’s ability to increase its prices, is the latest such example.

In the letter, which is unsigned, Verisign accuses the Internet Commerce Association, as well as registrars Namecheap and Dynadot, of conducting a “deceptive” campaign to persuade .com registrants to submit comments opposing the deal.

It notes that ICA represents “speculators” — it never uses the term “investors” — as if this was some kind of closely guarded secret, and describes the practice of domaining in a way that implies that the practice is somehow “illegitimate”, like this:

More than any other group engaged in the ICANN multistakeholder process, these speculators are highly sensitive to even the smallest wholesale price changes because of the enormous portfolios of .com domain names they control.

Speculators sometimes sell these domain name registrations to other speculators, but often they pass these costs along when they sell the domain names to legitimate internet users who wish to use .com domain names to build websites. We believe this resale activity adds little value to the DNS.

It’s not wrong, but good grief! The chutzpah on this company is sometimes jaw-dropping.

It’s like a car manufacturer complaining that its billion-dollar range of off-road SUVs are mostly being used by obese city dwellers for the school run. Just take the billion dollars and stop complaining about your biggest customers!

It’s not the first time Verisign has rolled out this line of attack. Back in 2018, when price caps were being negotiated with the US government, it posted an article on CircleID accusing domainers of “exploit[ing] consumers” and “scalping”.

Verisign’s able to get away with this kind of attitude, of course, because most domainers have an almost erotically slavish devotion to .com. The company could spend all day every day emailing them disgustingly personalized “yo momma” jokes and they wouldn’t stop buying up its product by the millions.

The two sides are trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship but they can’t break up because they’re both making so much goddamn money out of it. They’re like the Clintons of the domain world, in other words.

Anyway, the gist of the company’s comment to ICANN is basically “Ignore the 9,000 other comments you’ve received, the commenters were suckered into writing them by lying registrars”.

Read it here (pdf).

As a matter of disclosure, Verisign cites the DI piece last week about covid-19.com as an example of why domainers suck. That wasn’t the intent of the article, but there you go.

9,000 people tell ICANN they don’t want .com price increases. Here’s what some of them said

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2020, Domain Registries

The public have spoken: they don’t want Verisign to get the right to raise .com prices again.

ICANN’s public comment period on the amended .com contract closed on Friday, with just shy of 9,000 comments which appear to be overwhelmingly against price-raising powers.

Comments

Almost 2,000 of the comments have the same subject line, “Proposed Amendment 3 to the .COM Registry Agreement”, suggesting they were generated by the Internet Commerce Association’s semi-automated outrage tool.

It’s a lot, but it’s dwarfed by seemingly non-ICA submissions, which will make the opposition to the deal harder to ignore than with last year’s .org deal, where many of the 3,000 comments were written off as “akin to spam”.

.com’s wholesale fee has been frozen at $7.85 per year since 2012, but Verisign managed to persuade the Trump administration in 2018 to allow it to return to the old policy of being able to raise prices by 7% in four out of the contract’s six years.

After a year’s negotiation, ICANN agreed to incorporate that change into its Registry Agreement with Verisign. Some commentators, including the Registrars Stakeholder Group, are now saying that ICANN should put contracts out to comment BEFORE they are negotiated.

The RrSG said of price increases:

The RrSG is concerned that the proposed price increases are without sufficient justification or an analysis of its potentially substantial impact on the DNS. ICANN has not explained how increase domain name prices are in the public interest or how this furthers the security and stability of the DNS. The price increases appear only to benefit one company, which has the right to operate .com in perpetuity (and without a competitive bidding process). This is inconsistent with ICANN’s bottom-up multi-stakeholder model.

It’s also understandably pissed off that Verisign is to get the right to own its own registrar for the first time, which could shake up the retail domain market.

While the proposed contract does not allow the hypothetical Verisign registrar to sell .com domains, the registrars think they’ve spotted a loophole:

nothing in the amendment prevents Verisign from reselling .COM domains via another registrar. In theory, Verisign could resell .COM domain names at or below cost and still profit from the wholesale .COM price

Some registrars submitted separate comments that echoed the RrSG collective view.

GoDaddy commented that there should be an economic study on the potential impact of higher pricing on competition before any increases are allowed to go into effect, adding:

GoDaddy believes that ICANN has agreed to a framework for wholesale price increases in .COM that will negatively impact current and future registrants of .COM domain names, as well as the overall domain name industry, which is disproportionately dependent and impacted by changes in .COM pricing. We are further concerned that there is no effective competition to assist in establishing what is a reasonable price for .COM.

Namecheap, which has also been vocal in fighting .org price increases, noted that .com prices could go up by as much as 70% over the next decade, due to the compound impact of annual 7% rises, adding:

The .com registry is well-established, so due to gained efficiencies, the cost of .com domain names should remain static or go down. It is not clear how much registrars will pass these price increases along to consumers, but it is likely that most of this increase will be paid for by domain name registrants.

Drop-catch specialist TurnCommerce/NameBright called for .com to be put out for competitive bidding:

There is simply no legitimate argument that competition for registry contracts—especially the largest registry contract—is bad for the domain name system or for consumers. Without the prospect of competitive pressure, Verisign has no incentive to be efficient, innovative, and effective. In the time that Verisign has operated the registry, prices have increased, we believe innovation has stalled, while Verisign’s operating costs have apparently declined.

As far as I can tell, the Registries Stakeholder Group, of which Verisign is a member, did not submit a comment. But some other constituencies did.

The Business Constituency generally supports ICANN’s somewhat hands-off approach to price regulation, but it did complain that there should have been a public consultation before the bilateral contract talks began a year ago. It wrote:

The BC has no practical objection to price increases that average just 4.5% per year for businesses who register .COM domains. Some BC members are concerned that Verisign has not provided justification for increasing .COM prices, though we are not aware of any requirement for gTLD operators to provide such justification. And while some BC members would prefer that ICANN seek competitive bids to operate existing registries, the BC has generally supported presumptive renewal performance incentives in registry agreements.

If you’re picking up hints of internal BC dissent in that comment, it’s almost certainly because BC member Zak Muscovitch is also general counsel of the ICA and was one of several contributors to its drafting.

The only other formal GNSO stakeholder group to submit a comment appears to be the Intellectual Property Constituency, but it took no position on pricing.

The At-Large Advisory Committee, which according to its web site “acts on the interests of Internet users”, sent a borderline humorous “Valentine” to the ICANN board that does not mention pricing but does congratulate ICANN on securing a $20 million Verisign bung, which is earmarked for DNS security work.

Here’s a sample of 10 public comments I clicked on randomly:

I’m writing to express disappointment and concern regarding the recent ICANN changes made to their contract with Verisign. These changes potentially create a lot of harm and unnecessary expense to customers for years to come. Please take customers into consideration before going forward with this.

Please don’t increase .com prices. As a small business owner we feel every price increase in our family business. We want to be able to keep the domain name that we have spent years building as our small business home on the web.

I’m here to tell you to stop this proposed price increase. You are being greedy. 40% price hikes with no caps in sight are ridiculous, stop it. I’m tired of getting ripped off by big secretive corporations and sleazy government agencies, and now this includes YOU!. We aren’t going to just put up with it, I, and a lot of others are here to fight! We demand to know
what you are doing with the money you propose to reap from us, aside from lining your pockets! Proveme wrong, give the internet community the clarity it deserves, and now demands!

This is a disgrace and not right.

I disagree with the changes that this amendment (3) will make to the domain registry system. I believe that this increase of fees will stifle innovation and takes the web further towards privatization and big money.

I know that I would not have taken as many opportunities or risks if prices were significantly higher and domains were a larger cost of business.

I urge you to reconsider these changes and reject this amendment.

I am writing in opposition to the proposed Verisign deal with respect to .com domains. I believe the current arrangement should be kept and strict price controls from ICANN should be preserved for .com domains. Verisign has no business exerting control or influence over ICANN, and the deal as proposed will be bad for consumers and anyone who holds a .com domain.

Please do not proceed with the proposed changes.

Please stop trying to fuck up the internet. It has been excessively adapted to suit capitalism. I think many more than just me have had enough. Stop being a shady ass business.

I do not agree with the extraordinary increase in prices for .com domains that appears to be a direct response to a bribe paid by Verisign company to the board of ICANN.

We live in perilous times, where democracy is threatened in every side by the resurgence of corruption, cronyism, and the far right.

You appear to be allowing the backbone of the internet become corrupted by greed, which would horrify the founding fathers of this essential technology.

Show some integrity and don’t give in to the basest of your natures.

I am a registrant of more .com domain names. I am against the proposed price increase to .COM domains. Verisign is merely your manager of the .COM Registry – it has no business dictating the price. ICANN is supposed to govern the domain name system in the public interest.

Thanks first for your hard work.

Please keep prices as they are and avoid this change that could have dire consequences for the entire internet as other less democratic countries will start soon offering alternative domains to .com. Furthermore, any increase will cause difficulties for us who are part of the third world.

If you’ve got more time on your hands than I have, you can peruse all 9,000 comments at your leisure over here. If you find anything good, please do drop a link in the comments.

Some poor bastard at ICANN now has the job of going through and summarizing all of them into ICANN’s official comment report, which has a March 6 deadline.