The importance of having a good registrar

I was recently reminded of an experience that I had gone through during the “wild west” days of the Internet – when this domain was held hostage by an unscrupulous company.

When I first got the bright idea of registering, I did a quick search of domain registration pricing and found several companies offering domains for less than $30. The Network Solutions’ monopoly on domain names had been broken up, and the cost of registering a domain had recently dropped from $100. I found a company that was offering a “total” registrar solution, and for only $9.99 / year, per domain.

Well, they neglected to mention that the price was only good for the first year. The second year it would cost $39.99 to renew the domain.

If you let a registration lapse, your domain name becomes available for purchase by others. There are whole business models based on purchasing lapsed domain names in the hopes of capturing the established traffic for ad revenue – or in the hopes that the owner will want it back and be willing to pay a hefty price.

Not wanting to lose my domain, I quickly looked into what it would take to transfer the domain to another registrar. This should be easily done – you simply make a transfer request and the domain is moved. However, my registrar had locked my domain, and it couldn’t be moved.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that it is recommended that everyone lock their domains. It is good practice. During the “wild west” days of the Internet, the domain “slamming” – where a registrar would submit a false transfer request to gain control of a domain – happened more regularly than it should, largely because the organization that oversees domain rules, ICANN, had rules that required all registrars to comply with a transfer request unless the domain was locked.

Unfortunately for me, my registrar automatically locked all domains and didn’t make it possible to unlock them.

According to the company, the unlock procedure had to be initiated 60 days before renewal, and couldn’t be initiated until 60 days after renewal. They require that you fill out a form and mail it to their company in Australia.

There were countless online reports of people sending in forms, but being told by the registrar that they never arrived. Forms sent by registered mail were returned unopened because the registrar didn’t accept any registered or certified mail. The mailing address was a PO Box – the company’s address turned out to be an alleyway in Sydney.

I sent countless e-mails to the registrar and ICANN, and posted angry messages on forums, but nothing could be done. I had to pay $39.99 each year or lose the domain.

Eventually, there was a class-action lawsuit. Shortly thereafter ICANN made a change to the rules, requiring that all registrars provide an easy way to lock and unlock a domain online.

The company was forced to comply with the new rule and I was able to unlock my domain and start a transfer. If the company didn’t transfer my domain they would be in violation of the rules and could lose their ICANN accreditation. My transfer went through – I had found a new registrar home with GoDaddy and was pleased to be freed from a company that would rely on such practices for earnings.

That experience taught me two things:

1. If not thought out, rules can be misused and abused. ICANN should have thought more carefully about the system they had created- and when that system failed, they should have moved more quickly to correct it.

2. The value of an established brand should not be discarded in favor of a scheme.

The company I was registered with would have had better results if they had acted reasonably. Offering a low introductory cost is a common business practice, and most wouldn’t have minded if the registration cost went up by a few dollars the next year. The registrar, which was a fairly big player at the time, lost almost all of their customers and had to change the name of their business because it had become synonymous with the scam. This change meant a loss of all of the money and time invested on marketing, branding, and trafficking efforts that went into building up the company.