Can registries change the pricing tiers for your premium domains? – Domain name thread
Probably not, but it’s not as simple as other pricing rules.
Last month I answered the question “Can registries upgrade your domain to premium before renewal?”
For new top-level domain names, registrars cannot upgrade your already registered domain from the standard renewal price to the premium price.
Some readers have asked a follow-up question: can a registry move your domain from one premium tier to another?
The answer here is a bit fuzzier. Let’s go back to section 2.1.c. of the Registry Agreement with ICANN:
(c) In addition, Registry Operator shall apply uniform pricing for renewals of domain name registrations (“Renewal Pricing”). For purposes of determining the renewal price, the price of each domain name registration renewal shall be identical to the price of all other domain name registration renewals in effect at the time of such renewal, and such price shall take account of the universal application of any refunds, rebates, rebates, linked products or other programs in place at the time of renewal. The foregoing requirements of this Section 2.10(c) do not apply (i) for purposes of determining the renewal price if Registrar has provided Registry Operator with documentation demonstrating that the Name Holder domain name concerned has expressly agreed in its registration agreement with the registrar to a higher renewal price at the time of the initial registration of the domain name after the clear and conspicuous disclosure of this renewal price to such Registrant, and (ii) a reduced renewal price pursuant to a Qualified Marketing Program (as defined below). The parties acknowledge that the purpose of this Section 2.10(c) is to prohibit abusive and/or discriminatory renewal pricing practices imposed by Registry Operator without the written consent of the applicable Registrant at the time of initial domain registration and this Section 2.10(c) shall be interpreted broadly to prohibit such practices.
When you register a premium domain name, you “expressly agree [the] registration agreement” that you will have to pay more than the standard renewal rates to renew a domain.
Take the hypothetical domain domain.example. Let’s say the standard renewal fee is $10, but your premium domain is in the registry’s Premium Tier A bucket, which renews for $200 per year.
In this case, the registrar will charge you the $200 per year plus the markup. And the registry could decide to increase the price of Tier A from $200 to, say, $300, as long as it gives registrars 6 months notice of this change. The same is true for standard fee registrations. (Assuming the registrar gives you advance notice, this would allow you to renew for 10 years at current prices.)
I think it is assumed that you accepted the higher renewal price in this level. But registries usually have multiple premium pricing tiers. Could they upgrade your domain from a Level A renewal at $200/year to a Level D renewal at $1,000/year while keeping the other domains registered at Level A?
The registry agreement is not so clear on this. I contacted ICANN for clarification. In an email, the organization said:
Registry Operator shall maintain uniform pricing and universally apply any refunds, rebates, rebates, tied products, or other programs in place at the time of renewal. In the hypothetical scenario you presented (“[…] this name was chosen to move to another of the premium pricing tiers while others did not. ”), one of the things that comes to mind is whether or not the OR’s approach would be consistent with the requirement to maintain uniform pricing. a priori, it appears that the Registry Operator does not maintain uniform pricing (see Section 2.10(c) of the Registry Agreement (RA)”[f]or for purposes of determining renewal price, each domain name registration renewal shall be the same as the price of all other domain name registration renewals in effect at the time of such renewal. […])” However, to determine if the scenario you are presenting violates the RA, it would be necessary to review all the details of the renewal against the RA requirements. These details include the prices at the time of renewal and whether the exceptions set out in clause 2.10 (c) apply in the present case – whether the holder accepted a higher renewal price at the time of registration and whether the differences renewal prices (between this domain name and the “other names”) result from a qualified marketing program.
This isn’t a definitive answer, but it sounds like you would have good reason to challenge a registry that moved your domain from one tier to another.
I don’t know of any registries doing this, although some have certainly moved unregistered domains from one level to another. And if a domain expires, its price to the next registrant may change.