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Surprising nobody, Verisign to raise .com prices again

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign has announced its second consecutive annual price increase for .com domain names.

The wholesale registry fee for .com names will rise from $8.39 to $8.97 on September 1 this year, an extra $0.58 for every new or renewing domain, of which there are currently over 160 million.

Verisign announced the move, which was expected, as it announced a 2021 profit of $785 million and a 65.3% operating margin.

CEO Jim Bidzos, speaking to analysts, played down the impact of the increases on .com registrants, pointing out that .com prices were frozen under the Obama administration and have only gone up once before, last year, since 2012.

“This is the second wholesale price increase for COM since January of 2012,” he said. “So, if you look back over the last 10 years, that translates into a cost increase of only 1.3% CAGR over the last ten and a half years actually.”

The current .com contract, signed off by the Trump administration and ICANN, allows for two more 7% annual price increases, excluding the just-announced one, but Bidzos would not say whether Verisign plans to exercise those options.

If it does (and it almost certainly will) it would raise the price to $10.26, where it would stay until at least October 2026, he said.

“We believe .com continues to be positioned competitively,” he said.

It’s still basically free money for Verisign, which saw strong fourth-quarter and full-year 2021 results.

The company yesterday reported revenue of $1.33 billion for 2021, up 4.9%, with net income of $785 million, down from $815 million. The operating margin was 65.3%, compared to 65.2%.

For the fourth quarter, revenue was up 6.3% to $340 million, with net income of $330 million compared to $157 million. Operating margin was 65.3%, compared to 63.9%.

For 2022, the company is guiding for revenue of between $1.42 billion and $1.44 billion, based on the price increases and predicted unit growth of between 2.5% and 4.5%. The operating margin is expected to be between 64.5% and 65.5%.

Bidzos also addressed the controversial .web gTLD, which it won at auction but has been unable to launch due to legal action pursued by rival bidder Afilias/Altanovo.

An Independent Review Process panel recently threw a decision about .web back at ICANN, which is now considering Afilias’ allegations of wrongdoing at the board level.

“ICANN looks to be moving forward with making the decision on the delegation of .web, and we will be monitoring their process,” Bidzos said. He said that Verisign has not budgeted for any revenue or costs from .web in 2022.

That’s probably wise. Afilias recently told us that it has not stopped fighting against Verisign’s .web win.

Verisign saw MASSIVE query spike during Facebook outage

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2022, Domain Tech

Verisign’s .com and .net name servers saw a huge spike in queries when Facebook went offline for hours last October, Verisign said this week.

Queries for facebook.com, instagram.com, and whatsapp.net peaked at over 900,000 per second during the outage, up from a normal rate of 7,000 per second, a more than 100x increase, the company said in a blog post.

The widely publicized Facebook outage was caused by its IP addresses, including the IP addresses of its DNS servers, being accidentally withdrawn from routing tables. At first it looked to outside observers like a DNS failure.

When computers worldwide failed to find Facebook on their recursive name servers, they went up the hierarchy to Verisign’s .com and .net servers to find out where they’d gone, which led to the spike in traffic to those zones.

Traffic from DNS resolver networks run by Google and Cloudflare grew by 7,000x and 2,000x respectively during the outage, Verisign said.

The company also revealed that the failure of .club and .hsbc TLDs a few days later had a similar effect on the DNS root servers that Verisign operates.

Queries for the two TLDs at the root went up 45x, from 80 to 3,700 queries per second, Verisign said.

While the company said its systems were not overloaded, it subtly criticized DNS resolver networks such as Google and Cloudflare for “unnecessarily aggressive” query-spamming, writing:

We believe it is important for the security, stability and resiliency of the internet’s DNS infrastructure that the implementers of recursive resolvers and public DNS services carefully consider how their systems behave in circumstances where none of a domain name’s authoritative name servers are providing responses, yet the parent zones are providing proper referrals. We feel it is difficult to rationalize the patterns that we are currently observing, such as hundreds of queries per second from individual recursive resolver sources. The global DNS would be better served by more appropriate rate limiting, and algorithms such as exponential backoff, to address these types of cases

Verisign said it is proposing updates to internet standards to address this problem.

.com and NameSilo fingered as “most-abused” after numbers rocket

SpamHaus has revealed the most-abused TLDs and registrars in its second-quarter report on botnets.

The data shows huge growth in abuse at Verisign’s .com and the fast-growing NameSilo, which overtook Namecheap to top the registrar list for the first time.

Botnet command-and-control domains using .com grew by 166%, from 1,549 to 4,113, during the quarter, SpamHaus said.

At number two, .xyz saw 739 C&C domains, up 114%.

In the registrar league table, NameSilo topped the list for the first time, unseating Namecheap for the first time in years.

NameSilo had 1,797 C&C domains on its books, an “enormous” 594% increase. Namecheap’s number was 955 domains, up 52%.

Botnets are one type of “DNS abuse” that even registrars agree should be acted on at the registrar level.

The most-abused lists and lots of other botnet-related data can be found here.

Verisign expects huge domain growth in 2021

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign tonight significantly upgraded its estimate of how many .com and .net domains it expects to sell this year, citing an improving economy and increased growth in online commerce.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts that it’s now expecting its domain base to increase by 4% to 5.5% this year. Three months ago, it had cautiously predicted growth would be between 2.5% and 4.5%.

That’s a minimum of 6.6 million net new domains this year.

The upgrade was inspired by its first-quarter performance, in which .com and .net base grew by 4.6% when compared to Q1 2020, to 168 million names.

That was an increase of 2.8 million names during the quarter, which compares to 1.83 million net new domains in Q1 2020 and 1.46 million in Q4 2020. A pretty damn good showing, in other words.

For Q1, Verisign tonight reported net income of $150 million, down from $334 million in Q1 last year, when it experienced a one-off tax benefit.

Revenue was up 3.6% on last year at $324 million.

Decision on $135 million .web auction expected in weeks

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2021, Domain Registries

ICANN, Verisign, Donuts, and the other applicants for .web will find out who gets to control the fiercely contested gTLD by the first week of June at the latest, according to Verisign’s CEO.

Jim Bidzos told analysts tonight that the Independent Review Process panel currently handling a complaint filed by Afilias declared its case closed April 7, and said that a decision will come within 60 days.

Afilias, now owned by Donuts, came second in an ICANN “auction of last resort” in which a Verisign-backed company called Nu Dot Co agreed to pay $135 million for the coveted string.

Afilias wants the auction declared invalid because ICANN, it claims, did not sufficiently pursue allegations that NDC was being secretly bankrolled by Verisign, which it says broke ICANN bylaws and new gTLD application rules.

This is denied by ICANN, as well as NDC and Verisign, which have filed legal documents with the IRP panel despite not being parties.

Afilias and others suspect that Verisign wants .web in order to bury it, keeping what could be a strong .com competitor weak, which Verisign also denies.

The IRP panel held a seven-day virtual hearing last August, but has continued to receive briefs from ICANN and Afilias since then.

Domain industry shrank in Q4, but as usual there’s a big BUT

The worldwide domain name count shrank in the fourth quarter, according to newly released Verisign data, but as usual the numbers were hugely impacted by big swings in just a few TLDs.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf), which is mainly compiled from zone file counts, shows that 2020 ended with 366.3 million names, down by 4.4 million or 1.2% compared to the end of the third quarter.

It’s the free and almost-free TLDs that swung the math.

Remarkably, industry wild-card .tk actually shrank during the quarter. This is highly unusual, as the registry’s business model is based on giving out names for free, never deleting domains, and monetizing the traffic to expired or suspended names.

It saw domains down by 2.8 million names over the quarter, from 27.5 million to 24.7 million.

Another big dipper was .icu, which sells cheap (usually under $1) and appeals to speculators largely in China.

While it slipped out of the top 10 TLDs, meaning the DNIB no longer breaks out its numbers, DI’s own zone file counts show its zone decline from 5.3 million to 3.4 million during Q4, a 1.9 million decline.

Notably spammy new gTLD .top, which also costs next to nothing and is popular in China, also had a role to play. Its zone count was down by about 900,000 between September 30 and December 31.

Those three TLDs alone account for a loss of 5.6 million names, far more than the 4.4 million industry-wide quarterly drop calculated by Verisign.

The impact of .icu’s continued spiral downwards is likely to be felt in Q1 2021 also. It’s lost another 2.4 million zone file names since the start of the year.

Verisign said the the universe of ccTLD domains contracted by 1.7 million of 1% during the quarter, ending the year with 158.9 million names.

The .tk shrinkage of course more than accounts for this dip. Without it, ccTLDs would be up by 1.1 million names or 1.1%. The major, top-10 ccTLDs mostly showed six-figure growth, the DNIB reflects.

New gTLDs were down 4.2 million names or 13.8% sequentially, ending the quarter with 26 million.

In addition to the aforementioned .top and .icu, this figure appears to have been affected by six-figure losses in some of the highest-volume, lowest-priced new gTLDs, including .club, .site .work and .vip.

In the main legacy gTLDs, Verisign’s own .com grew by 1.5 million names, from 151.8 million to 150.3 million, during the quarter. Its .net was again flat at 13.4 million. Public Interest Registry’s .org gained a (rounded) 100,000 names, ending the year at 10.3 million.

The annual numbers across the industry for 2020 have better optics. The DNIB shows that domain volume was up by 4.0 million or 1.1% year over year.

That breaks down into a 6.3 million increase in .com, a 1.3 million increase across the ccTLDs, and a 3.3 million decrease in new gTLDs, not all of which can be explained away by factoring out .icu and .top.

Verisign upgrades its cash-printing machine but warns post-pandemic “could go either way”

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign has named the date for its long-anticipated .com prices increases, as it reported another healthy quarter and year of growth.

The company announced that the annual wholesale fee for a .com domain is going up from $7.85 to $8.39, effective September 1. That’s in line with the 7% annual cap reinstated by the Trump administration and rubber-stamped by ICANN.

It’s the first .com price increase since 2012, when reg fee was frozen by the Obama administration’s Department of Commerce under its longstanding contract with the company.

The $0.54 price increase would mean an extra $82.5 million for Verisign’s top line, assuming the .com base remains static at today’s level of 152,883,064 domains. The reality is very probably that registrations will continue to grow, however.

Verisign is allowed to increase prices by 7% three more times under its current ICANN contract. It was allowed to take the Trump bump last year but deferred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Registrants are able to lock-in their current renewal rates for up to 10 years before the price rise kicks in, assuming registrar fees don’t increase in the meantime.

.com is of course a fabulously successful business, and it received a pandemic-related boost last year, due to a increase in small businesses moving online due to lockdown rules, which was reflected in Verisign’s fourth-quarter and full-year results.

Verisign reported fourth-quarter net income up from $148 million to $157 million, on revenue that was up 3.1% to $320 million.

For the full year, net income was up from $612 million million to $815 million, on revenue that was up 2.7% at $1.23 billion.

Operating margin is always an metric where Verisign shines — I often get phone calls from analysts baffled as to why ICANN allows such blatant profit-taking — but it was down a tad to 65.2%, from 65.5% in 2019.

That’s probably not enough to dislodge its crown as the company with the highest operating margin of the S&P 500.

Speaking to analysts and investors last week, Verisign said it’s projecting 2021 operating margin down again, to be between 64% and 65%, because of increased investment in its infrastructure and the $4 million annual bung it’s agreed to pay ICANN.

While Verisign is only going to see one quarter of higher prices this year, it seems the majority of its increased revenue will trickle down to the bottom line.

The company expects its domain growth to be between 2.5% and 4.5% in 2021. Execs noted continuing pandemic-related uncertainty. CFO George Kilguss said:

when the pandemic subsides and things start opening it up, I think it could probably go either way either it could accelerate or it could slow a little bit. We’re just not sure how the market would react just as we were somewhat uncertain when this whole pandemic started

In other words, while coronavirus proved an unexpected boon, post-pandemic economic recovery may not necessarily be a good thing for the industry.

Verisign drops half a mill on pandemic relief

Kevin Murphy, December 28, 2020, Domain Registries

Verisign has donated over half a million dollars to pandemic-related causes, the company announced last week.

The donations are aimed at relieving economic side-effects of the pandemic such as food poverty and unemployment.

The .com registry operator said in a blog post it has given $275,000 to food banks in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware where most of its US operations are based, and in Fribourg, Switzerland, its European HQ.

It’s also given $250,000 to Virginia Cares, an initiative dedicated to retraining unemployed Virginians for in-demand jobs in the tech sector.

Verisign was of course an inadvertent beneficiary of the pandemic, as lockdown regimes worldwide led to a boost in domain registrations as businesses such as bars and cafes moved online.

.web ruling might not come this year

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2020, Domain Registries

A decision about who gets to run the .web gTLD may not arrive until early next year, according to Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos.

“A final decision from the [Independent Review Process[ panel may be issued later this year or early next year,” he told analysts late last week.

.web sold at auction for $135 million four years ago to a company being secretly bankrolled by Verisign, but the outcome is being challenged in the IRP by runner-up bidder Afilias.

Afilias argues that the auction should be voided because ICANN failed to sufficiently investigate links between Verisign and the winning bidder. ICANN denies any wrongdoing.

It’s widely believed that .web is the strongest potential competitor to Verisign’s .com, and its attempt to secure the string is largely defensive.

The IRP case heard several days of testimony in August and the panel retired to consider its decision.

Floodgates, open! Trademark Clearinghouse now supports .com

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2020, Domain Services

The Trademark Clearinghouse has added .com to the roster of TLDs supported by its infringement notification service.

The Deloitte-managed service recently announced the change to its Ongoing Notification Service, which came into effect late last month.

The update means TMCH subscribers will receive alerts whenever a .com domain is registered that contains their trademark, helping them to decide whether to pursue enforcement actions such as UDRP.

Unlike the ICANN-mandated 90-day Trademark Claims period that accompanies the launch of each new gTLD, the registrant herself does not receive an alert of possible infringement at point of registration.

The service, which is not regulated by ICANN, is still free to companies that have their marks registered in the TMCH, which charges an extra dollar for every variation of a mark the holder wishes to monitor.

Such services have been commercially available from the likes of MarkMonitor for 20 years or more. The TMCH has been offering it for new gTLDs since they started launching at the end of 2013.

With the .com-shaped gaping hole now plugged, two things could happen.

First, clients may find a steep increase in the number of alerts they receive — .com is still the biggest-selling and in volume terms the most-abused TLD.

Second, commercial providers of similar services now find themselves competing against a free rival with an ICANN-enabled captive audience.

The upgrade comes at the tail end of the current wave of the new gTLD program. With the .gay launch out of the way and other desirable open TLDs tied up in litigation, there won’t be much call for TMCH’s core services for the next few years.

It also comes just a couple months after the .com zone file started being published on ICANN’s Centralized Zone Data Service, but I expect that’s just a coincidence.