Enhanced Registrar Compliance Could Accompany Higher Domain Pricing

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — There could be higher baseline pricing of all domains with a heightened WHOIS confirmation process, according to the Internet Commerce Association (ICA).

The ICA's Philip Corwin in an editorial on the watchdog's site said that dialogue at yesterday's ICANN’s Board and Governmental Advisory Council (GAC) meeting included discussion on increased efforts to obtain valid WHOIS data to confirm that registrants are legitimate and can be identified and readily contacted.

ICANN's GAC, in ongoing negotiations with the Registrar Stakeholder Group to beef up the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, was reacting at its San Jose, Costa Rica, board meeting to urgent requests from national law enforcement agencies.

"ICANN staff reported that the negotiations could be concluded within the next few weeks, and that incentives will be offered to encourage quick registrar adoption," Corwin wrote.

With efforts to further regulate the Internet by enhanced confirmation of WHOIS data, Corwin says that costs will likely rise for registrars with new compliance rules.  

"ICANN is increasingly taking on a quasi-regulatory role, and every regulation is a tax upon those who must implement it with those compliance costs passed on to users," Corwin wrote. "While regulations may well have merit, more is not necessarily better and some cost/benefit analysis is always in order to ensure that the end justifies the burden of the means."

In the editorial, Corwin says that the cost of enhanced WHOIS verification is fairly predictable and pointed to ICM Registry's .XXX efforts.

"ICM Registry already employs such measures for the .XXX domain, and at a session on WHOIS compliance held the previous day the CEO of ICM Registry described the scope of its effort and their price," he wrote. "ICM expends about $6 per registrant for WHOIS verification; on average, each registrant purchases three domains, bringing the per domain price down to $2.

"ICM’s pricing for adult content domains is substantial, so this cost is a relatively small percentage of the total annual registration price. But WHOIS compliance will be a much higher percentage of the price for incumbent gTLDs as well as many of the new ones on their way.  

"Of course, registrants may pay for their domains for up to 10 years at a time, and it is not yet clear what requirements will be placed on registrars to verify the WHOIS data of existing registrants, and all of that will affect how this enhanced compliance affects domain pricing by registrars."

Corwin continued on to say that the cost of registrant WHOIS verification for all gTLDs will be similar to what ICM Registry now expends, "and it is not trivial."

"In a highly competitive marketplace registrars will have no choice but to pass this cost on to registrants," he said. "So, while we sympathize with the need of law enforcement to have the ability to identify bad actors, and understand that effective WHOIS verification can prevent many ill-intentioned domains from ever being registered,  it is also important that these new steps to ensure domain integrity remain feasible in scope and reasonable in cost."

The ICA, created in 2006, follows the work of the U.S. Department of Commerce, ICANN and other similar policy making bodies within the Internet technology industry.

Corwin, an attorney and founding principal at VirtuaLaw, has been representing ICA for a number of years at ICANN meetings.