Prices for .com domain names could go up for the first time in eight years, with the group responsible for overseeing top-level internet domains, ICANN, close to granting final approval for a series of price hikes.
The price of .com registration has been frozen at $7.85 since 2012. Consumers didn’t necessarily see that price — you could have been charged more or less by a registrar — but that was the price domain registrars ended up paying per registration.
Under a proposed agreement, the price could rise to nearly $13.50 per domain over the next 10 years. The agreement allows Verisign, which has a contract to oversee .com domains, to raise the price by up to 7 percent per year over most of the next decade. Verisign would be required to pause price increases during two years (2024 and 2025), but it would otherwise have authorization to steadily raise prices through 2029.
The price hikes don’t stem from ICANN: they come from an agreement Verisign reached with the Commerce Department, which has some oversight of .com domains. In a blog post yesterday, ICANN CEO Göran Marby writes that the organization “is not a price regulator and defers to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Justice for the regulation of pricing for .COM registry services.”
Verisign reached a deal with the government to raise prices in 2018. But it’s gaining attention now because ICANN is close to confirming the price increases in its own contract with Verisign. By Marby’s account, though, there’s nothing ICANN can do — it’s just updating its own agreement to reflect the already agreed upon pricing updates.
The government agreement justifies the price increases by saying that new top-level domains (like .pizza and .camera) and “the use of social media” have made the domain name market “more dynamic.” It’s not strictly wrong about that, but .com still remains the assumed ending for domains, at least in the US.
As Engadget points out, the change also stems from the Trump administration’s desire to roll back anything remotely Obama related. In a 2018 press release about the updated agreement change, the Commerce Department’s telecom agency referred to the price freeze as “Obama-era price controls” and said it was repealing them in favor of “pricing flexibility.”
ICANN’s agreement with Verisign isn’t final just yet. A public comment period closes on Friday, and then a final report is due in March.
The domain registrar Namecheap is making a last-minute push against the changes. On Monday, it sent out an email to customers titled “Help Us Avoid .COM Price Increases” and encouraged readers to leave a comment opposing the price hikes. In the end, it may be registrars that feel the biggest impact: if they want to keep .com pricing low as a way to hook customers and sell them on other services, they may have to take an even bigger hit.