How the battle over domain prices could drastically change the web (Part 2)

“When prices are increased, registrars will need to pass the additional cost to customers,” said Kirkendall. “For nonprofits, small businesses, and customers from emerging markets, increased domain name registration costs will be particularly harmful.”

If a .org registrant, such as a nonprofit, can no longer afford its .org domain, the name could become available for use by nefarious actors. These new registrants can then use the domain to engage in spam or phishing activities, which could create security issues across the entire web.

Your .com domain is next

It doesn’t end with .org domains either. There’s likely more price cap removals on the way. ICANN’s contract with Verisign, the registry that runs the popular .com TLD extension, is up in 2024. The current contract includes price caps, which is why almost anyone can afford the $10 per year domain registration.

Kirkendall says “this is the ultimate endgame. The .com TLD represents over 70% of all registered domain names. Because it is commercial in nature, it is more likely to lead to price increases.” 

Verisign also operates the .net domain. The contract renewal for that extension is in 2023.

“Removing price caps from those agreements would give Verisign the ability to raise prices for two TLDs that represent approximately 80% of all registered domain names,” warned Kirkendall.

According to ICANN, the reason the organization is seeking to renew registry contracts without price caps is to bring uniformity to its deals for both legacy TLDs, like .com, and new generic TLDs (gTLDs), like .ninja and .xyz. Agreements for the latter didn’t include price caps and some domains extensions, such as .bank, cost thousands of dollars per year to register. 

As Kikrendall points out, hundreds of millions of .com, .net, and .org domains were registered before the introduction of the new gTLDs and the new rules that came along with them.

“There have been trillions of dollars invested in the marketing of these TLDs that have established them as the prime virtual real estate of the internet world,” he explains. “These TLDs have a stranglehold on the market which is virtually impossible to break.” 

“If ICANN truly wants to create competition and level the playing field, they would open up the bidding process for the management of these legacy TLDs by other registries,” Kirkendall continued.

The battle continues

However, it seems the price cap fight is not over. Namecheap has already filed a request to ICANN to reconsider removing the price caps.

“This unilateral action by ICANN staff is unprecedented, and we felt we needed to stand up on behalf of our customers,” Kirkendall said. “If the ICANN Board rejects the request, Namecheap is preparing to execute on other options.”

Those options, which are in ICANN’s bylaws,  include a third-party review process, an investigation by an independent Ombudsman, and a mechanism that would allow ICANN international advisory committees to organize and file a dispute with ICANN’s board.

Most people have likely heard of net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat all content, traffic, and sources equally. 

From the FCC’s approval of the rules in 2010 to its repeal under the Trump administration in 2017, net neutrality has received plenty of media attention over the past decade — and rightfully so. The idea the ISPs, acting as broadband gatekeepers, could create different tiers of internet access, depending on the price you pay, would change the web as we know it forever.

ICANN could also drastically change the web. At a time when internet users should be encouraged to take control of their data, lifting the domain name price caps will create an extra barrier for those looking to retain ownership of their content.

Domain names are often referred to as digital real estate. ICANN may have just created a future digital affordable housing crisis.

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