With gTLDs, there are many top-level domains to choose from. I can buy a domain on .us for $7.88/year or a .ai domain for $68.88/year. However, as far as I can tell, the TLD operator can charge whatever they want for domains, and can change domain registration fees at any time. Is this correct?

I don't want to change my domain name. Ever. Are the traditional unsponsored top-level domains like .com and .org less likely to have fee increases than new sponsored top-level domains? What's stopping Verisign from increasing fees on .com? Do I have any assurance that a domain in a new sponsored top-level domain that is cheap now will continue to be cheap later?

up vote 2 down vote accepted

In short: no one knows and no one can predict anything about this. Like in some other areas, past behaviors will not give you indications of what will happen in the future.

Any kind of sugar coating on this is just pure personal ramblings.

The facts are that:

  • the gTLD registries are under contracts with ICANN, with some variations, for example VeriSign for .COM/.NET still have some historical contracts. The specific case of VeriSign is long and will not fit here. Basically they had the right in the past to change price each year by some percentage and they kind of negotiated to have a presumptive perpetual lease on the TLD by giving up the prices increase (at least for now). See http://domainincite.com/11156-breaking-verisign-loses-right-to-increase-com-prices
  • contracts expire and get renewed; sometimes some TLD are put again in a tender process to be awarded to another registry (this is how .ORG was redelegated from VeriSign to PIR). In such cases no guarantees could be made on how prices will stay the same or not.
  • newer registries have basically no fees constraints, except those described in article 2.10 of their contract: "Registry Operator shall provide each ICANN accredited registrar [..] advance written notice of any price increase (including as a result of the elimination of any refunds, rebates, discounts, product tying or other programs which had the effect of reducing the price charged to registrars, unless such refunds, rebates, discounts, product tying or other programs are of a limited duration that is clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the registrar when offered) of no less than thirty (30) calendar days.", but also follow up with point b of the contract.
  • there are various fees, both fixed and variable that ICANN impose on registries and registrars; these can change too, be waived, etc. See article 6 of this contract for some ideas: https://newgtlds.icann.org/sites/default/files/agreements/agreement-approved-31jul17-en.html
  • ccTLDs registries (and your .ai example falls in this category as does any 2 characters TLD, AI is the country Anguilla, see https://www.iana.org/domains/root/db/ai.html) are not under contract with ICANN and are even more free to put whatever restrictions and price structures they like and to change at any time. And sometimes quite strong changes, see for example https://medium.com/@Oskar456/stolen-sk-domain-717e070f6735); but you may also get more stability in the sense that a ccTLD is not competing with others ccTLDs, and sometimes with just some gTLDs, where gTLDs are basically competing (brand cases apart) almost all against each other; some or most of them are run by non-profit organizations that may have end-users in their board (so prices are put in control)

In short, registries, especially the newer ones, are between the need to be competitive in a sea of numerous new gTLDs (hence lowering prices typically, as the volume of domain names tend to be the sole indicator of success, which is not without its own peril) and the need to be profitable (hence having sometimes an higher price because of very low number of volume of domain names in the registry), except if this is covered by other services or a company that can run the registry part as a loss.

Registries put aside some names as premium ones, with specific prices (either one-off price at creation and then renewals are at standard prices, or premium prices for both creation and each renewals until the domain name gets deleted, you can see both models in the wild) and they do conduct some regular or one-off promotions. For example, .EU gives rebates to their registrars depending on their volume increase between two periods (from past observations, such rebates are rarely forwarded to the registrant, but the registrar base prices may be computed based on these rebates from the beginning).

Then, do also remember that you have registrars, competing against each other. On top of registry prices, they put their own margins, that can fluctuate a lot, both depending on where they operate from, the time of the year, the TLD, etc.

So expect a lot of changes and surprises.

Also, not to be disrespectful, but sometimes questions on domain names prices are quite misplaced (your question lacks context about if you are speaking about like personal domain names for no commercial activities, or big portfolios of brand owners, or anything in between): the domain name by itself is almost pointless, you obviously have services on top of it, like webhosting, emails, and so on. As registrars have shown, nowadays the domain name price just by itself, and excluding premium ones of course, is just a tiny amount of the whole package of services you need to pay to be online. So when cost lowering or control is needed, domain names may not be the first and best spot to try winning some money. But of course, at least on the registrar level, you have competition so you are free to change if you find a better one (I would advise however not taking just the price point as a unique comparison tool between them; also not using the same registrar for all domains can be interesting sometimes).

Verisign has contracts with ICANN to handle registry of top level domains, which includes pricing and fees. Assuming these contracts don't expire and things don't change, the fees will probably remain level with modest increases. Verisign essentially formed a monopoly of domain registrations for these top level extensions in the early days of the internet due to the contracts with ICANN.

According to the ICANN decision, Verisign would've also been allowed to increase its registry fee by 7% in four out of the next seven years,[32] but this decision was changed by the Department of Commerce

source: https://icannwiki.org/Verisign

Under Obama, ICANN was released from a US controlled non-profit entity to an international entity controlled by private entities. This was supported by some of the largest online web companies as they believed the change was beneficial. Though there have been fears that the change of ICANN ownership could lead to alterations in how top level domains are registered in the future. This could include fees, potentially. The hope of the internet is that the change in ICANN ownership does not lead to any substantial changes in top level domain management.

Many newly released domain extensions that are English words are controlled by a single entity that filed for the right to have that extension. The fee to have your own domain extension is very pricey, and so those entities make their money back by selling the domain at a yearly mark up. This is why you'll sometimes see unregistered domains on these newly released extensions being marked as "premium" with high annual fees. I assume that these yearly fees are considered contractual with the customer and that they shouldn't change. But I am not sure if the annual fee contract is perpetual or if it could change in the future.

  • "Verisign has contracts with ICANN to handle registry of top level domains, which includes pricing and fees." what does that mean? You seem to be in reverse: Verisign is under contract with ICANN to handle the .COM/.NET registries (and some others), like many other registries are under contract with ICANN for other TLDs. Each registry, within the bound of its contracts, set its pricing policy for its TLDs. On top of that ICANN mandates some monthly/yearly and some per-domain prices to all registries. – Patrick Mevzek Apr 10 at 16:34
  • Contracts do expire! They all have an end date and gets renewed regularly. In fact Verisign one for .COM expires in November 2018. See icann.org/resources/agreement/com-2012-12-01-en (section 4.1) and icann.org/resources/agreement/com-archive-1999-11-10-en for all previous versions – Patrick Mevzek Apr 10 at 16:37
  • "This was supported by some of the largest online web companies" this is kind of very restrictive... they are many stakeholders: governments, IP community, non-profit organizations, end users. The consensus was to make ICANN more "international" and less tied with US government. – Patrick Mevzek Apr 10 at 16:38
  • It's my experience in Australia the first time you register a domain name that it can be reasonable, see Netregistry offering .com.au domains for $14.95, however when you renew it tends to be a 80% increase - it's hard to explain this to customers – zod Apr 10 at 23:32
  • @zod are you sure this comes from the registry and not just the registrar? In the latter case you should maybe look at your options using another one. Note however that in many TLDs you have promotions where the creation price is hugely discounted but not the renewal ones. So maybe instead you add the creation at 80% discount and the renewal at normal price, I do not know. Check what other registrars are offering to you. – Patrick Mevzek Apr 12 at 15:49

It does happen that a registry increases the price of its domains but it is rare and when it happens the increase of price is very small. I wouldn't worry too much about this. Some new domain name extensions are cheaper than ".com" by the way.

What can happen, and again this is ultra rare too, is buying a premium domain name and having a renewal price that changes between the moment you bought the premium and the moment you renew (bad surprise). There are cases.

Verisign won't probably increase the price of ".com" because it now has a stronger competition from new gTLDs, with cheaper domain names to buy on the market. I have a list of similar TLDs here.

  • Rare? Before 2012, VeriSign uses what was in its then contract to raise .COM/.NET prices almost every year. See for example domainincite.com/… 10% or 7%, you be the judge if this is very small or not :-) – Patrick Mevzek Apr 10 at 17:07
  • For VeriSign, its current contract (until november 2018) forbids price increase. See section 7.3.d of icann.org/resources/pages/agreement-2012-12-05-en : "The Maximum Price for Registry Services subject to this Section 7.3 shall be as follows: (i) from the Effective Date through 30 November 2018, US $7.85;" – Patrick Mevzek Apr 10 at 17:09

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