Devolution of the .COM monopoly

Devolution of the .COM monopoly
The ten years: 1999 - 2009

In 1996 NSI (now Verisign) was told to charge for domain names. By 1998 the business was lucritive, by 2000 ICANN was under orders from the USG to "devolve the NSI(now Verisign) monopoly".

ICANN produced a report in 2001 that suggests this was successful. Here's the data from that report protrayed graphically.

Fig 1 - Registrar market sales by registrar.

Fig 2 - Domain names totals, by registrar

Looks good on paper. In only a year ICANN devolved the NSI (now Verisign) monopoly. At least that's what these numbers, supplied by ICANN suggest. However:

Persistance of .COM market dominance, 1998-2009

cnobi9801.png cnoib0205.png cnobi0609.png
Click on a graph to get to the original (flash) version that you can right-click, full screen, and print.
Figs 3 - 5 Sources: InterNIC, IANA, Hobbs Internet Timeline, ZookNIC.

So, a decade after being ordered to "devolve the NSI (now Verisign) monopoly" and the creation of a 900 strong sales channel for .com names by ICNAN, the Verisign monopoly is as healthy as ever, and all but a very small number of "registrars" are of no statistical interest (indeed, registrar accreditation is used by domain speculators for its convenience and low cost way of getting domains).

In 1996 Jon Postel noted there was "widespread dissatisfaction" with the .COM monopoly. There still is. In 1999 ICANN creatd an MLM-like sales channel network (that meets the FTC criteria for "a franchise") and created 900+ "registrars" - but now there is "widespread dissatisfaction" with the dominant .COM registrar. A recent Slashdot story about a flaky registrar turned into an all out derision of the dominant registrar and despite the existence of 900+ registrars, one person commented "are they really all bad? Can anyone recommend a good one" to which the names of two companies were offered in response.

2 out of 900 is not a figure to be proud of. While the Slashdot story is only one data point it does suggest a corroboration of a suspected trend that of all the names and numbers that need to be registered for the various things that make the Internet usable, only ICANN registrars stand out.

Fig 6 - TLD registry market share, 2002.

Fig 7 - Total domain name sales by TLD percentage: 2009

And here's how the registrars break down, Fig 8, from SnapNames "State of the domain marketplace, 2002"

Fig 9 - The top 15 registrars. Source: Enom