Smaller localities in particular have said that the $400 annual cost was a barrier to adopting the government-specific URL.
State and local governments, at least for much of this year, will no longer have to pay a $400 annual fee to the federal government to get website addresses that end in “.gov.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced the change Tuesday. The agency says it will do away with renewal and registration fees, making .gov domains available for free to eligible organizations, effective immediately. The fees will be canceled at least until the end of the 2021 federal fiscal year, on Sept. 30.
Cybersecurity experts warn that when government agencies use “.com” or “.org” suffixes, it can make it harder for users to know when they’re on an official website. This opens the door for criminals, or other bad actors, to set up imposter sites that can be used to steal personal data, or to spread misinformation about things like elections.
A bill tucked into federal coronavirus relief legislation enacted in December included provisions meant to boost local government adoption of .gov URLs. That law also transferred the federal DotGov program to CISA from the General Services Administration.
CISA said in an online notice that a leading concern that came up during conversations the agency had with current, former and potential .gov registrants was the $400 annual fee.
“Government IT administrators have often found the higher price hard to justify to their management in the face of lower-cost alternatives, typically priced at less than $20 annually,” CISA said. “This is felt most acutely by smaller municipalities and the election community.”
“There’s perhaps never been a more important time for the public to know where to get official government information online,” the notice added.
CISA is also waiving fees for federal agency .gov registrants.
The December legislation made shifting online services over to .gov sites an eligible expense to cover with Homeland Security grant funds. CISA explained in its notice that the cost of migrating can include more than just the registration fee. So it’s still possible local governments could find ways to use the money for .gov transition projects.
Governments and agencies that already paid $400 for the year are out of luck if they’re hoping to get the money back. CISA says it will not be issuing any refunds.
In addition to the fee announcement, the agency also outlined some requirement updates for obtaining and maintaining a .gov domain. More details about the changes can be found here.
Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.