The battle for .com

By : |December 11, 2006 0

Dheeksha Rabindra

The prolonged tussle between Verisign and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) started with an accusation of infringement of contract in 2003, which led to both parties suing and counter-suing each other.

Early this year, a contentious settlement was reached between both the parties, putting an end to the rival lawsuits filed against each other.

After a long scrutiny of the settlement by US Department of Commerce, it was rubber stamped in early December 2006, approving Icann decisions and making Verisign the sole player in the .com domain till 2012, almost giving the latter a monopoly over the domain.

Verisign enters

A website digital authentication services and products provider, Verisign, forayed into the domain name business with the acquisition of Network Solutions in 2000. Three years later, it spun off the Network Solutions customer registrar component.

The dot com, a generic top-level domain (gTLD) used on the Internet Domain Name System, has grown to be one of the most popular and sought-after domains since its inception in 1985.

With its entry into the domain business, Verisign came on Icann’s radar. The latter oversees global IP address allocation, Domain Name Service (DNS) root zone management and other Internet protocol assignments under United States Department of Commerce.

Verisign also came under the terms and conditions of Icann on the operation of the domains, .com, .net and .org.

According to the 1999 agreement on domain business, Verisign operated the Internet’s .com, .net, and .org registries based on agreements with Icann and the US Department of Commerce that could have extended to November 2007.

The 1999 deal was revised in May 2001. According to the new agreement, Verisign’s operation of .com registry expiration date remained unchanged, but agreed to enhanced measures (including annual audits arranged by Icann and made available to the US Government) to ensure that its registry-operation unit gives equal treatment to all domain name registrars, including Verisign’s registrar business.

No error, just deviation

It all started with Verisign’s new Net service. In September 2003, it introduced a service called ‘Site Finder’. The service meant if the web users were looking for a .com or .net domain that did not exist, they were re-routed to Verisign’s website instead of just getting an “error” page.

Icann contented that Verisign had overstepped the terms of its contract with the Department of Commerce, which in essence grants Verisign the right to operate the Domain Name Service for .com and .net. Icann demanded Verisign to shut down the service. Since then Verisign and Icann relationship has been turbulent.

Critics said that the new service hijacked users and helped spammers.

However, in October 2003, Verisign agreed to withdraw its ‘Site Finder’ services.

Subsequent to the withdrawal of its contentious services, Verisign filed a lawsuit against Icann in February 2004, seeking clarity over what services it could offer in the context of Icann’s sometimes opaque governing process.

Verisign claimed that Icann had overstepped its authority and sought to reduce the haziness seeking through the suit to reduce haziness in a suit to which Icann responded with a countersuit. Icann and Verisign later withdrew the lawsuits against each other.

Verisign agreed to drop all challenges to Icann in exchange for the right to increase pricing on .com domains, following a settlement approved by Icann’s board in late 2005. Verisign and Icann announced the proposed settlement, which defined a process for the introduction of new registry services in the .com registry

End denotes beginning

With the end of the Site Finder controversy, the .com registry fee controversy began. Both the parties claimed that the settlement is designed to put an end to rival lawsuits filed against each other.

The terms of the settlement were themselves contentious and have received widespread criticism. The lobby for Internet businesses alleged that this agreement created a monopoly of .com market and the filing also accused both the parties of price fixing.

On February 2006, Icann’s board approved the revised settlement, enabling Verisign (the registry) to increase its registration fees. The revised settlement placed new limits on the fees charged for .com domain names.

It allowed Verisign to hike prices by up to seven per cent a year in four of the next six years. Six months advance notice must be given before any proposed increase.

Further raises would only be allowed in certain circumstances. The previous terms would have let Verisign increase the fees every year without conditions. The agreement would also stop Verisign from passing on separate surcharges that help fund Icann. Instead, Verisign would pay Icann $6 million in the first year, rising to $12 million in 2009.

The deal also left .com in with Verisign until 2012, when it would be given the option to renew its contract with Icann.

The monopolist?

Critics said that this would prevent others from bidding to run the .com domain.

A lobby group called the Coalition for Icann Transparency said the new deal did not go far enough. It has two lawsuits pending against Verisign and is also targeting Icann.

The proposed agreement was submitted to the US Department of Commerce for approval in March 2006. Although the Internet is increasingly an international phenomenon, the US retains the right to seal Icann decisions on how the infrastructure operates.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the US Department of Commerce, has spent the last nine months sifting through the proposed agreement and reviewing comments made on it by net bodies and companies. It was approved in December 2006 and NTIA has kept final approval of any price rises and of subsequent renewal of the .com contract.

The .com domain is by far the most popular of the net’s addresses and currently there are 59 million domains registered that use the suffix .com. Verisign maintains the address books of who owns which .com domain and runs the computers that direct web users’ computers to the right place.

The agreement ends the legal action taken by Verisign against ICAAN and the dropping of a retaliatory suit by the net overseer.

© CyberMedia News

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