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Greater Transparency in Domain Name Pricing

Tucows issued a press release today wherein they announced lower domain name pricing and enhanced services.

The bigger change, which might set a trend for other registrars, is the greater transparency of the registry and ICANN fees relative to the fees charged by Tucows. Tucows’ fees will be $3 per domain above the combined registry and ICANN fees.

If all registrars were to quote domain name prices in this manner (I had called it “Asterisk Prices” when I had suggested the idea to various registrars last December, for lack of a better term), it would shift the blame to ICANN and the monopoly registry operators (e.g. VeriSign) every time they raised their fees. Registrars could demonstrate to their customers that their own fees were stable or even falling. Each time registry operators raised fees, registrars could blast out emails to domain name registrants notifying them of the fee increase, and reminding them that under competitive tenders prices would be much lower.

One day, when the antitrust people start to wonder how registry operators can continue to raise their fees in the face of declining technology costs and decide to test those monopolies in court, having the above transparent pricing will be very useful to help calculate potential damages. Indeed, various states settled with Microsoft in the past, requiring them to provide rebates to consumers who had been overcharged in the past for Windows and other software. In a competitive tender situation, dot-com registry fees might be $1.50 to $2 per domain name, so perhaps one day VeriSign and other monopoly registries will be ordered to provide similar rebates to domain name registrants.

With the US Department of Commerce leaving the door open to antitrust suits for VeriSign by failing to give them immunity, and with class-action lawsuits a very profitable activity for lawyers, I expect to see litigation sooner rather than later (unlike registry operators, law firms do have to compete with one another). The .com registry fee increases are due to take effect on October 15, 2007, so I would watch the courts beginning on that date.

By George Kirikos, President, Leap of Faith Financial Services Inc.

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