How forgetting to renew a domain name cost $3m

GoDaddy does it. Name.com does it. Namecheap does it. Amazon Web Services does it. HostGator does it. The whackily named CrazyDomains.com.au isn’t all that crazy: it does it, too.

They all offer auto-renewal of domain names. In fact, it’s hard to find any registrar that doesn’t.

But perhaps Sorenson Communications found one. Or then again, perhaps employees’ calendars all broke down simultaneously and failed to send reminders that the domain renewal was coming due. However it happened, the Utah-based telco neglected to renew its domain in 2016. So, as these things go, it slipped silently off the internet.

That’s not good for anybody. But it’s particularly not good when you’re the company that brings video relay service (VRS) to deaf, hard of hearing and speech-disabled people. For 3 days, 6 – 8 June 2016, all the users who rely on the telco to place calls—including emergency calls—were out of luck as the company was bumped into service outage.

How much does the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dislike Sorenson having inflicted this oh-so-preventable service outage on customers? … an outage that meant the VRS provider was noncompliant with the Communications Act and FCC rules, which require that services be able at all times to handle any type of call normally provided by carriers, including emergency calls on the US 911 line?

The FCC dislikes it $3 million worth. That’s the fine the regulatory agency imposed on Sorenson on Friday.

That $3m breaks down to $2.7 million to reimburse the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund and a $252,000 penalty. Under the terms of the settlement, Sorenson has also agreed to provide enhanced notices to consumers during outages.

It didn’t have to be this way, the FCC said in its announcement of the settlement:

The Commission’s investigation found the outage was preventable.

The FCC has established specific quality requirements for TRS Fund-supported services. These requirements ensure that persons with hearing or speech disabilities are able to stay connected with friends and family, and access critical services such as 911, in a manner similar to persons without hearing or speech disabilities.

Sorenson, if it’s any consolation, you’re not the first. The Dallas Cowboys did it. Microsoft did it. Twice (buh-bye, Hotmail!). Foursquare did it. Ketchup king Heinz did it with a label-design contest, Fundorado.com, that wound up as a porn site.

Hell, even Google did it: some guy bought Google.com for $12 in 2015 and held the keys to the Googleopolis for one glorious minute.

As Naked Security’s Mark Stockley points out, this is a cautionary tale for all of us. The lesson to be learned: don’t lose control of your domain.

But even if you don’t face regulatory pain, if your domain is worth owning, there are other people who’d like to own it too. Even if they don’t want to turn your Glory-Widgets-R-Us dot com into a porn site, there’s money to be made by trying to sell it back to you at a massively inflated price or by setting it up as a phishing site.

Failing to renew is hard.

Almost everyone wants you to renew, not least your registrar. It knows what’s in its best interest and a good registrar will make auto-renewal easy, even default to it, and start to nag you long before your domain is up for grabs; after all, you’re its bread and butter.

If you forget to renew a domain all is not lost. On expiry it will enter a grace period where you can still renew it at no extra cost, and even after that’s over there’s a further redemption period where you can still get it back, if you pay a little bit extra. The periods vary depending on the registrar and the top-level domain (the top-level domain is the last part of the name such as .com or .org) but they typically add up to months of time in which you, and only you, can reanimate your undead domain.

So, register your domain for the longest possible period, make sure auto-renew is switched on and check that your credit card isn’t going to expire. And for pity sake, use your calendar. It has all sorts of sophisticated features.

Like, say, reminders.