[Comments-org-renewal-18mar19] ICANN must retain some price caps, especially on renewals

Andrew Allemann andrew at domainnamewire.com
Mon Apr 29 15:10:28 UTC 2019

For the reasons stated below, ICANN must reconsider its proposal to remove
price caps on .org domain names.

Market power at the time of registration

It is technically true that there are a lot of choices when it comes to
choosing a domain name. If I want to register example.com, I can choose to
register a longer .com, opt for a .net or .info domain, a ccTLD or choose
from hundreds of new top level domains such as example .xyz.

But let’s face it, people usually want .com. It has extraordinary market

Back in 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division explained
this in a letter to ICANN regarding new top level domain names. It stated:

“Our investigation of the proposed .com agreement generated several
findings that bear on the likely effect of creating new gTLDs. First, we
found that VeriSign possesses significant market power as the operator of
the .com registry because many registrants do not perceive .com and other
gTLDs (such as .biz and .info) and country code TLDs (“ccTLDS,” such as .uk
and .de) to be substitutes…

…We also concluded that existing gTLDS would not become a competitive
threat to .com registrations because the network effects that make .com
registrations so valuable to consumers will be difficult for other TLDs to
overcome. Due to a first-mover advantage and high brand awareness, .com
registrations account for the overwhelming majority of gTLD registrations…

Even with the introduction of hundreds of new top level domains since this
letter was written, they have barely chipped away at .com’s market power.

Do other TLDs have market power? I’d argue .org does. Charities and
non-profits often think of .org first instead of .com. The antitrust
department noted:

“Finally, our investigation of the .com agreement found evidence that other
gTLD registry operators may possess a degree of market power. The market
power inherent in other gTLDs is less than the market power in .com, but is
still material.”

In order of power in the gTLD market, I’d argue that .com is highest and
.org is second highest. ccTLDs also have market power in some countries.

The presence of market power for initial registrations suggests that prices
for some top level domains should be restricted. A non-profit is unlikely
to choose .charity over .org unless it is unable to acquire the .org
domain. It will usually choose an alternate, longer .org domain before
choosing something else. This might not be true in twenty years but it is
true in 2019.

For top level domains that don’t have market power and are easy substitutes
for each other, controlling initial registration prices is not as
important. That’s part of the reason people are complaining more about .org
price caps than .info.

High switching costs and market power at the time of renewal

Domain names have immense switching costs. Companies that switch from one
domain name to another often spend months planning the move. Some spend
years. Some spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are two reasons the switching costs are high.

First is search engines. Google is the lifeblood of many website’s traffic.
Even the best-planned domain name transition can have serious traffic (and
thus monetary) impacts. When HomeAdvisor switched its domain from
ServiceMagic.com it saw a marked drop in traffic and revenue. On its
conference call after switching domains, the company stated

HomeAdvisor domestic revenue was negatively impacted by a 20% decrease in
accepted service requests due primarily to the domain name change.

20% from a domain name change!

It took the company a while to regain the search rankings it had before.

Even companies that create and manage websites for a living have to expend
significant resources
change domain names.

It can be done but it’s very difficult.

The second reason for high switching costs is email. Companies often have
thousands of email addresses tied to their domain name. These email
addresses are then tied to many online accounts. Switching domain names
means updating all the mailboxes technically and all the accounts
associated with them. It means emailing all customers and telling them
about the new addresses. It undoubtedly means missing some important emails
when the switch happens.

I have an acquaintance who was offered over $200,000 for a domain name he
registered in 1997. He declined because he and his family have email
addresses tied to the domain. It would mean changing hundreds of account
registrations at websites and countless hours of work.

It’s one thing to switch email addresses if the company retains its prior
domain name and can forward email to the new one. But if a company has to
relinquish an old domain name due to renewal costs, it will miss out on
this email forwarding and probably miss important messages.

These high switching costs make domain owners hostages to the registries
that operate their domains. They simply have to pay whatever they are
charged. The cost to switch is too much.

For this reason, renewal costs *must* be capped.

How domain registration and renewal costs should be managed

Some top level domains have market power at the time of registration. All
top level domains have tremendous power over registrants at the time of

For this reason, ICANN should consider capping initial registry fees for
top level domains that have some level of market power, such as .com and

It should limit prices on *all* domains at the time of renewal.

The organization has stated that registrants have some protection because
they can renew domains for up to ten years at current prices before price
hikes take effect.

There are two problems with this.

First, the registries must notify the registrars of the price increase.
It’s up to the registrars to notify customers. Busy customers might
overlook these notices or not have the cash to renew for ten years today.

Second, and most importantly, this just kicks the can down the road. What
does a company do ten years from now when it has to pay the new rates.


Andrew Allemann


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