After a long wait, ICANN has issued a much needed clarification describing how it interprets its domain name portability policy.
Tucows has been an advocate of strong domain name portability policy since the early days of ICANN. We believe that consumer choice is a fundamental element of a healthy market. Without strong domain name portability policies the domain market will never be as strong as it should be.
The debate dates back to the early days of ICANN. Network Solutions, still owned by Verisign, had 100% market share. They were also the only registrar. By the end of the first full year of domain name competition, their market share was almost cut in half, falling to just 52.9% market share. At this time, fewer than 1 in 5 customers were choosing to do business with Network Solutions.
The former monopoly had serious problems to address.
The primary driver of this massive loss of market share was the substantial drop in domain name prices that Tucows introduced into the market in January, 2000. At the time domain, the early competitive registrars and Network Solutions, were selling domain names for $30-$35 each. We sold our first name as an accredited registrar on January 16, 2000 for $10 making us the first competitive registrar to seriously compete with NSI for real market share. NSI has since reduced their prices to closer match the market but they are still viewed by many as a high-price provider.
When faced with these prospects, most business owners react with a competitive response – new pricing, special promotions, enhancing features, etc. Network Solutions reacted by making it as difficult as possible for domain registrants to transfer their business to one of the newly created registrars. Instead of working harder to keep their customers, they were going to make it impossible for their customers to leave.
Tucows advocacy resulted in ICANN adopting a set of domain name portability policies entitled “Inter-Registrar Domain Name Transfer Policy”. In its earliest form, draft versions of this policy proposal were actually modeled on Tucows transfer practices which continued to be viewed as a benchmark for the industry. While the new portability policy had widespread support amongst the community, Network Solutions, Go Daddy and Register.com strongly opposed its adoption.
Network Solutions and GoDaddy reacted by implementing more obstacles for customers who wanted to leave and try a new provider. They claimed these restrictions would enhance “consumer protection” and “security” but the net result was simply that it became a lot harder for registrants to transfer their domain names away to new providers.
These customer hostile policy abuses continue into the present day.
This is why Tucows especially welcomes this clarification from ICANN. This advisory specifically addresses many of these policy abuses and provides greater recourse for our staff to help our customers in resolving domain transfer related issues. Provided that ICANN backs up this advisory with clear enforcement against those ignoring its advice, it should become easier for duly authorized registrants to safely and securely transfer their service to a new provider.