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Report on Survey of Domain Registration Services

Numerous competitive registrars offer diverse domain registration services to individuals, companies, and organizations. This study attempts to index and analyze their service offerings, facilitating analysis by other researchers and in preparation for additional analysis by the author.

Interested registrars have completed a survey of service offerings — surveys remain available for those additional registrars who care to submit information about their services.

Background

From 1993 until 1999, registrar Network Solutions provided the sole source of domain registration services within the popular .COM, .NET, and .ORG top-level domains. Subsequent to Network Solutions' 1998 Amendment 11 to its cooperative agreement with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce, domain registration services were opened to competitive registration by other registrars. In 1999, ICANN selected five additional registrars to provide domain registration services, and eligible registrars have subsequently increased to 168.

These 168 registrars have come to offer a wide variety of products and services. For example, some registrars focus on simple web-based domain registration intended for individuals. Others offer extensive portfolio management systems intended for large firms. Some provide numerous additional services such as web hosting and email accounts, while others encourage users to obtain these services separately.

This study seeks to index, classify, and compare registrars' various offerings. These features build on the approach of existing sites such as RegSelect. However, while sites like RegSelect help prospective domain registrants choose a registrar, this study focuses on competition, regulatory, and market structure questions — primarily for research purposes, in study of the dynamics of this developing market. This study also attempts to track and report an increased number of characteristics of each registrar — an expansion that is possible because, while sites like RegSelect use a single team of centralized editors, this study invites interested registrar representatives to contribute data about their respective firms.

Analysis

Survey data shows notable differentiation among registrars. Some registrars report serving individuals almost exclusively; others focus on corporate registrations or on resellers; at least one registrar purports to have a relatively even split between market channels, with at least 20% of its business coming from each of individuals, corporate registrations, bulk registrations, and resellers. Other product characteristics also vary dramatically — from support options to online customer service to bundled services to pricing.

These varied characteristics — and the choice they facilitate among competing registrars — suggest that registrar competition has brought about large benefits to domain registrants relative to the prior market structure that offered only a single registration service. Future research will attempt to develop a structured model of choice among registrars and will attempt to quantify the consumer surplus resulting from registrar competition.

To date, registrar participation in this survey has been relatively limited. Fourteen registrars have completed the survey so far, out of 168 registrars in total. But many large registrars have participated — including first-, second-, and third-, and fifth-largest registrars VeriSign (at least through its DBMS subsidiary; while its Network Solutions group is to be spun off to a separate firm), Tucows, Register.com, and eNom. The author's hope is that the posting of this preliminary data may inspire additional registrars to complete the survey, providing a fuller sense of available registration services.

Related Links

- Survey Data
- Survey Form
- Special Coverage: New Analysis of Domain Name Business

By Benjamin Edelman, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School

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