08 July 2015
Reporter: Mark Dugdale

NetNames has a pop at Vox Populi

A third competition regulator has been brought into the dispute over Vox Populi Registry’s pricing strategy for the .sucks gTLD.

Online brand protection company NetNames has filed a complaint with the European Commission, arguing that charging brand owners $1,999 per year while others pay just $10 is unfair.

Vox Populi demanded $1,999 from brands during sunrise, with yearly renewals charged at the same rate. But during general availability, which opened in late June, consumers only had to part with $199 for a .sucks domain.

The registry has “created an uneven pricing structure that effectively charges brands a premium fee irrespective of when they applied to register” a .sucks domain, according to NetNames.

Vox Populi has also created a market premium list of domains, containing almost 100,000 trademarks, brand and generic terms, that will be offered for sale during a ‘consumer advocate’ phase later in the year.

These domains will be heavily subsidised, according to NetNames, and will likely be available to anyone for less than $10.

Gary McIlraith, CEO at NetNames, said: “This differentiation in price, for the same domain which is determined by whether you are a brand holder or an individual, has created an uneven playing field.”

“Vox Populi’s predatory pricing model is a blatant attempt to extort revenues from brand owners. Offering consumers the TLD at such a low price during the ‘consumer advocate’ phase puts companies at significant risk from cybersquatters who may register their brand’s .sucks domain to exploit their reputation. The danger is that other registries may now start to adopt the .sucks approach in charging premium fees to registered known trademarks and brands.”

“NetNames is committed to ensuring its customers are not cheated by the new domain name programme and we look forward to a response from the European Commission.”

The NetNames complaint is the latest in a line of requests for competition regulators to take action against Vox Populi over its pricing strategy for .sucks.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) asked Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) and US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to launch investigations into Vox Populi, after complaints from brands.

Deputy minister of Industry Canada John Knubley, on behalf of the OCA, responded in June but did not confirm whether an investigation would be launched, while FTC chair Edith Ramirez said at the end of May that her agency will “take action” against Vox Populi if “we have reason to believe an entity has engaged in deceptive or unfair practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act”.

Vox Populi has long argued that its pricing is fair and within ICANN rules.

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