New draft guidebook doesn’t adequately address concerns that VeriSign could hike .com registration prices.
Over the weekend, ICANN released its latest New gTLD Applicant Guidebook with guidelines for the introduction of new top level domain names such as .eco and .shop. Unfortunately, the guidebook still holds a time bomb for owners of existing domain names, such as .com domains, that could force them to pay massive renewal fees for their domains.
What the guidebook allows: Registry operators for new TLDs can essentially choose whatever price they want to offer domain registrations. They must provide 30 days notice of price increases for new registrations and 180 days notice for renewal price increases. Domain owners would then be able to renew their domains for up to ten years at current prices.
How this could be applied to existing domains, such as .com: Existing registrants of domains such as .com mostly don’t care about pricing mechanisms for new top level domain names. The problem is that registry operators for existing domain names have a clause in their agreements with ICANN that says other registry agreements won’t include more favorable terms to other registries than their own contract. This means that VeriSign could push to remove pricing controls on .com domains, making them similar to new top level domain names.
Then they could announce variable pricing and massive price hikes, such as charging Google a billion dollars to renew Google.com. Google could renew at current prices for ten years, and then get hit with a big bill in the 11th year.
This violates an implicit guarantee: This isn’t fair to current domain owners, who registered their domains with the implicit guarantee that ICANN would manage registry contracts in a competitive manner. In other words, they would competitively bid registry contracts based, in large part, on the price registries would charge for their services.
ICANN isn’t listening. So far, people opposed to new TLD pricing have been fighting to restrict pricing in the new agreements. Although almost all comments provided to ICANN about pricing recommend price controls, it is becoming clear that ICANN does not intend to follow the wishes of the broader community, and is instead beholden to the registry operators who will profit from such pricing schemes.
What should be done: That’s OK for new domains, but violates the trust of existing domain owners. The battlefield should be moved to a different solution: force operators of existing TLDs, such as .com, .net, .org, .biz, and .info, to sign an updated registry agreement that adds an exclusion to the “most favored nation” clause. This exception would exclude pricing controls of other registry agreements from being applied to existing registry agreements.