ICANN/Verisign Deal Hangs in Balance

Comment period ends, but opposition to the deal remains. What happens now?

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Feb 24, 2006
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The future of the Internet quite literally hangs in the air.

ICANN board members met this week about the revised deal with VeriSign for control of the .com registry.

The revised deal would end all pending litigation between ICANN and VeriSign, as well as allow VeriSign to raise domain prices and continue to manage the registry for "near perpetuity."

The ICANN board members met after the public comment period on the deal, which ended on Feb. 20. ICANN did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the revised deal or the recent board meeting.

The deal's opponents, however, have not been nearly as elusive.

The Coalition for ICANN Transparency (CFIT) opposes the deal and is continuing with its litigation against ICANN, which began in November.

John Berard, spokesperson for CFIT, told internetnews.com that the ICANN board intends to bring the subject up again at another special board meeting scheduled for Feb. 28.

"Our view is that an event as significant as the reassigning of the dot-com database really requires public debate and for decisions to be made in public," Berard said.

"ICANN's next regular meeting is at the end of March in New Zealand, and it seems incredulous that they wouldn't use that already-fixed date for a public meeting as the next legitimate time to discuss this."

And days before the comment period officially ended, a group of the world's eight largest registrars, representing 57 percent of all current dot-com registrations, formally expressed their displeasure with the proposed revised deal in a letter to Vint Cerf, ICANN chairman of the board.

The eight registrars include GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Tucows, Register.com, BulkRegister, Schlund + Partner AG, Melbourne IT and Intercosmos Media Group.

In a letter from Stratton Sclavos, chairman and CEO of VeriSign, to Cerf, Sclavos refuted the claims of the deal's opponents.

Referring to the letter sent by the eight domain registrars Sclavos wrote, "These eight registrars plainly neither speak on behalf of the larger Internet community, nor evince an understanding of, or concern for, the requirements for a stable and secure operation of the DNS. They speak only in their own narrow economic interests."

Sclavos argued that the revised agreement is in fact in the best interest of ICANN as it expands ICANN's role and supervisions, as well provides stable funds for the organization.

He also takes aim at the renewal clause, which would extend VeriSign's control beyond the 2012 term end date.

"The renewal clause of the existing 2001 .com Registry Agreement, however, guarantees VeriSign an automatic renewal on terms such as those included in the proposed .com agreement," Sclavos wrote.

"In addition, the proposed .com agreement preserves for ICANN the right to conduct a re-bid in the event VeriSign does not live up to its responsibilities under the agreement.

"The secure and reliable operation of the .com registry and the DNS are too important to the international and Internet community to be placed at risk by delaying the approval of the proposed .com registry agreement or yielding to the threats of a few who may be willing to place their interests ahead of those of the larger Internet community," Sclavos added.

According to Sclavos, VeriSign currently handles more than 15 billion daily DNS queries for the .com registry.

CFIT's Berard, however, argues that the notion that no one else can handle the demands of the .com registry is "terribly incorrect." Nor does he believe that the deal is important to end the current litigation between VeriSign and ICANN, adding that it may well expose ICANN to much more liability.

Jonathon L. Nevett, vice president and chief policy counsel at Network Solutions, is of the same opinion. Network Solutions is the progenitor of all modern domain registries and was once owned by VeriSign. It isn't any longer and it's not towing its former parent's line, either.

"We believe that well-intentioned but fallible people should not be making permanent decisions," Nevett said on an early afternoon conference call with reporters.

"Based on the pricing and perpetual management terms in the current proposal, we believe that litigation is far better than capitulation in this case.

"If ICANN approves the revised settlement, it will only be trading one lawsuit for many others."

The dispute, however, is not necessarily irreconcilable, at least according to Berard.

"I believe that if you look at the very first statements made by CFIT, our position is straightforward," he said. "Let the current deal run its course, VeriSign is the contractor for the current deal.

"There is no one saying throw the rascals out. We're just saying let's live by the contract and conduct business in a way that is best for the overall Internet community."

In the meantime CFIT is continuing its litigation against VeriSign and ICANN and is currently in the midst of the discovery phase. Discovery is set to be completed by March 17, and at that point a date will be set for a hearing.

Berard is hopeful that ICANN will reconsider the proposed revised deal.

"The fact that there is such broad opposition, I believe that there is a good chance that sanity will rule."

Article courtesy of internetnews.com

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