How the battle over domain prices could change the web for good

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How the battle over domain prices could change the web for good

Net neutrality has been repealed and a few big tech monopolies control most of the internet. Now things might get even worse for consumers with a decision that could send prices for .org, and eventually .com, domains skyrocketing, making running a website prohibitively expensive.

Domain names are how people access information in their browser, acting as an address for each website. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the organization that governs the web’s domain name systems. And it just opened the door to monopolies charging whatever they want for registering a web address.

Internet monopolies 

Ironically, the U.S. government formed ICANN in 1998 to prevent a monopoly.

In the early 1990s, the government decided to privatize the domain name registry. Network Solutions, which had previously been managing the system, was the single bidder for the contract.  There were less than 5,000 domain names registered at this time. 

As the registry for .com, .net, and .org domains for the entirety of the 1990s, Network Solutions charged as much as $100 per registration. As antitrust concerns mounted, ICANN forced Network Solutions to separate its registry, which runs the domain extensions, from its registrar business, which sells the domains to customers. 

This move led to a sharp decrease in domain prices with the registry selling them to registrars at a wholesale price of $6. 

The company would later sell for $21 billion in March 2000 during the dot com bubble to Verisign, the registry where .com and .net has remained since.

As part of an ICANN proposal to help spur competition, Verisign agreed to give up the .org top level domain (TLD) in 2003 in exchange for an extension to its .com contract. The nonprofit Public Interest Registry (PIR) was formed and awarded the .org extension by ICANN.

Today, there are more than 350 million domains registered in TLD extensions. The .com TLD makes up more than 150 million of those names. There are currently more than 11 million registered .org domain names.

The decision that could change the web

A little over a month ago, ICANN agreed to a proposal to lift the previously installed price caps on .org domain name registration after the contract with its registry expired. In ICANN’s new deal with PIR, it can now charge nonprofits and other individuals anything it would like to register a domain.

Similar price cap removals were also approved for domain registries Afilias and Neulevel, which run the .info and .biz TLD extensions, respectively. 

This is despite the fact that when ICANN first made its proposal earlier this year, more than 3,500 comments were submitted by members of the public — and 98 percent of them were in support of keeping price caps, according an analysis from Namecheap.

So, what does this mean for consumers? Can the .org registry now charge hundreds of dollars per year for a single domain name? 

“Yes, Public Interest Registry is now free to charge whatever price they determine for any .org domain name,” confirmed Namecheap CEO Richard Kirkendall in an email. He also explained

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