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.com and .net are the drag factor on domain industry growth

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign’s own gTLDs .com and .net slowed overall domain industry volume growth in the second quarter, according to its latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

June ended with 351.5 million registrations across all TLDs, up 1 million sequentially and 10.4 million year-over-year.

Growth would have been slightly better without the drag factor of .com and .net, which were down 200,000 domains each sequentially, as Verisign previously reported in its Q2 financial results. There were 161.1 million names in .com and 13.2 million in .net.

The ccTLD world grew by 700,000 names sequentially and 2.6 million compared to a year earlier, the DNIB states.

New gTLD names were up by the same amount sequentially and 4.1 million year over year, ending the quarter at 27 million.

Verisign to crack down on Chinese domains

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign has asked for permission to implement a more stringent regime for denying or suspending .com and .net domain names registered in China, to comply with the country’s strict licensing rules.

The changes appear to mean that customers of Chinese registrars who have not verified their identities, which Verisign says is a “very small percentage”, will be prevented from registering new domains and may lose their existing domains.

The company has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN, proposing to tweak the registrant verification system it has had in place for the last five years in a few significant ways.

China has a system called Real Name Verification, whereby Chinese citizens have to provide government-issued ID when they register domains. Local, third-party Verification Service Providers such as ZDNS typically carry out the verification function for Verisign and other foreign registries.

The big change is that Verisign will no longer allow names to be registered without a valid code.

The RSEP says that attempts by China-based registrars to register domains without the required government verification code will result in the EPP create command failing, meaning the domain will not be registered.

Under the current system, outlined in a 2016 RSEP (pdf), the name is registered and Verisign presumably takes the money, but the domain is placed on serverHold status, meaning it is not published in the zone and will not resolve.

The new system will also allow Verisign to retroactively demand codes for already-registered names, when they come up for renewal or transfer, with the option to suspend or delete the names if the codes are not provided. The RSEP (pdf) states:

With regard existing domain names without the required verification codes, which currently comprise a very small percentage of domain name registrations from registrars licensed to operate in the People’s Republic of China, Verisign intends to address compliance issues with these domain names directly with registrars. Verisign reserves the right to deny, cancel, redirect or transfer any domain name registration or transaction, or place any domain name(s) on registry lock, hold or similar status

It’s not clear what a “very small percentage” means in hard numbers. A small slice of a big pie is still a mouthful.

Verisign has substantial exposure to the Chinese market. On the odd occasion when .com shrinks, it’s largely due to speculative registrations from China not being renewed, such as in the second quarter this year.

The RSEP names the service the Domain Name Registration Validation Per Applicable Law service. While it’s in theory applicable to any jurisdiction’s laws, in practice it’s all about addressing the demands of the Chinese government.

Verisign announces ANOTHER price increase as regs slide

Verisign posted a rare decrease in its .com/.net registered name base in the second quarter, but said it is going to raise its .net prices next year anyway.

The company also massively slashed its growth outlook for domain sales this year.

The annual cost of a .net name will go up 10%, the maximum permissible under its contract with ICANN, to $9.92 from February 1 next year, the registry said

Registrants will as usual be able to lock-in the current renewal fee of $9.02 for up to 10 years if they renew before the hike kicks in.

It’s the first .net price increase since 2018. The TLD has been stagnating in volume terms for several years, due no doubt in part to behavioral changes following the introduction of new gTLDs starting in late 2013.

The news came as Verisign reported that its domain base shrunk during Q2.

The company ended June with 174.3 million names under management, up 2.2% over a year earlier but down 350,000 domains compared to the end of Q1.

The split was 161.1 million for .com and 13.2 million for .net — that’s a sequential decrease of 200,000 for .com and a decrease of 200,000 for .net. Both rounded, of course.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts tonight that renewals were affected by a great many first-time registrations from China not renewing. General post-pandemic and macro-economic factors also played a role, he said.

The preliminary renewal rate was 75.9% compared to 76.0% a year earlier, but the number of new regs was down to 10.1 million from 11.7 million over the same period.

Verisign reported Q2 revenue up 6.8% on a year ago at $352 million, with net income of $167 million compared to $148 million. Its operating margin swelled to 67.1% percent from 64.7%.

Bidzos told analysts that the company is cutting its registered name growth prediction for the year to between 0.5% and 1.5%, a huge decrease from the already-downgraded estimate of 1.75% and 3.5% it made after the first quarter.

He said that he expects Q3 and Q4 to go much the same way as Q2.

Bidzos said he thinks the current factors affecting regs are a bump in the road and he expects things to stabilize over time.

UPDATE 2148 UTC — The article was updated to correct the comparison of the decrease in .com/.net regs.

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.

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.

.com renewals lowest in years, but Verisign sees lockdown bump anyway

.com and .net saw decent growth in the lockdown-dominated second quarter, despite Verisign reporting the lowest renewal rate since 2017.

The company last night reported that it sold more new domains in Q2 than it did in the same period last year — 11.1 million versus 10.3 million a year ago.

It added a net 1.41 million names across both TLDs in the quarter, compared to growth of 1.34 in Q2 2019.

CEO Jim Bidzos did not directly credit coronavirus for the bump, but he told analysts that the growth was driven primarily by small businesses in North America getting online. The US went into lockdown in the last week of March.

Verisign has now upped its guidance for the year. It now expects growth in domains of between 2.75% and 4%. That’s higher than the guidance it was giving out at the start of the year, pre-coronavirus.

The company had lowered this guidance to between 2% and 3.75% in April due to coronavirus uncertainties, which with hindsight clearly seems overly cautious.

On the flipside, Verisign’s estimated renewal rate for the quarter was down to only 72.8%, down from 74.2% a year ago, the worst it’s been since Q1 2017, when renewals were suffering through the tail-end of a massive Chinese junk drop.

But Bidzos said that the low rate was “primarily related to the lower overall first-time renewal rate”, suggesting that it might be more due to registrar promotions or heightened speculation a year ago than any coronavirus-related drag factor.

For Q2, Verisign reported revenue up 2.6% year over year at $314 million, with net income up from $148 million to $152 million.

The company also announced yesterday that it is freezing its prices across all of its TLDs until March 31, 2021.

You’ll recall that it gets the right to increase prices 7% starting on October 26 this year, under its new deal with ICANN and the US government, and Verisign confirmed yesterday that there will definitely be a price increase next year.

Because there’s a six-month notice period requirement in the contract, news of the timing of this increase could come as soon as September this 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.

New gTLDs slip again in Q1

The number of domains registered in new gTLDs slipped again in the first quarter, but it was not as bad as it could have been.
Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, out today, reports that new gTLD domains dropped by 800,000 sequentially to end March at a round 23.0 million.
It could have been worse.
New gTLD regs in Q1 were actually up compared to the same period last year, by 2.8 million.
That’s despite the fact that GRS Domains, the old Famous Four portfolio, has lost about three million domains since last August.
Verisign’s own .com was up sequentially by two million domains and at 141 million, up by 7.1 million compared to Q1 2018. But .net’s decline continued. It was down from 14 million in December to 13.8 million in March.
Here’s a chart (click to enlarge) that may help visualize the respective growth of new gTLDs and .com over the last three years. The Y axes are in the millions of domains.
.com v new gs
New gTLDs have shrunk sequentially in six of the last 12 quarters, while .com has grown in all but two.
The ccTLD world, despite the woes reported by many European registries, was the strongest growth segment. It was up by 2.5 million sequentially and 10 million compared to a year ago to finish the period with 156.8 million.
But once you factor out .tk, the free TLD that does not delete expired or abusive names, ccTLDs were up by 1.4 million sequentially and 7.8 million on last year.

.com zone tops 140 million

The .com zone file passed the 140 million domain milestone for the first time today.
According to Verisign’s own count, today there are 140,016,726 .com names in the file. Yesterday, it had 139,979,307 names.
It’s taken since November 2017 to add the last 10 million names.
Adding registered names not in the zone, what Verisign calls its “Domain Name Base”, .com is currently at 141,857,360 domains.
Meanwhile, .net is continuing to shrink.
It has 13,441,748 names in its zone today, down from an October 2016 peak of over 15.8 million.
The .net domain name base is 13,668,548.
Pretty soon, if the slide continues, Verisign won’t be able to round up to 14 million in its quarterly reports any more.

New gTLDs rebound in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2018, Domain Registries

New gTLD registration volumes reversed a long trend of decline in the second quarter, according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.
The DNIB (pdf), published late last week, shows new gTLD domains up by 1.6 million sequentially to 21.8 million at the end of June, a 7.8% increase.
That’s the first time Verisign’s numbers have shown quarterly growth for new gTLDs since December 2016, five quarters of shrinkage ago.
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The best-performing new gTLD across Q2 was .top according to my zone file records, adding about 600,000 names.
.top plays almost exclusively into the sub-$1 Chinese market and is regularly singled out as a spam-friendly zone. SpamHaus currently ranks it as almost 45% “bad”.
Overall, the domain universe saw growth of six million names, or 1.8%, finishing the quarter at 339.8 million names, according to Verisign.
Verisign’s own .com ended Q2 with 135.6 million domains, up from 133.9 million at the end of March.
That’s a sequential increase of 1.7 millions, only 100,000 more than the total net increase from the new gTLD industry.
.net is still suffering, however, flat in the period with 14.1 million names.
ccTLDs saw an increase of 3.5 million names, up 2.4%, to end June at 149.7 million, the DNIB states.
But that’s mainly as a result of free TLD .tk, which never deletes names. Stripping its growth out (Verisign and partner ZookNic evidently have access to .tk data now) total ccTLD growth would only have been 1.9 million names.