Verisign on verge of agreement with ICANN

ICANN and Verisign agree but the devil's in the details

ICANN, the international body that coordinates the domain name and IP addressing sytem, is on the verge of reaching agreement in its long-standing discussion with top-level domain name registrar Verisign. A draft agreement has been reached and exposed for public comment on the parties’ websites.

Both parties have made concessions. Verisign has agreed to put to ICANN any registry services it wishes to add before launch, to check for potential threats to the security and competitive environment of the internet.

In return, however, it has been given exclusive rights to administration of the .com domain until 2012 — a move that some local internet observers say grants it an effective monopoly and is likely to raise costs to users.

Verisign also won the continuing right to administer the .net domain. This had been put out to competitive tender and many, including InternetNZ members, were hoping the ICANN decision-makers would take the opportunity to introduce some diversity, says InternetNZ executive director Keith Davidson. But this was not to be.

The degree of control over domain registration in the hands of one party is not, in his view, a happy state of affairs. “We continue to be slightly concerned at Verisign’s activities,” he says.

The original cause of dispute was Verisign’s unilateral addition of two new services: Site Finder, which captured attempts to access unassigned domains and suggested the closest domain name to that entered; and a wait-list service, where organisations could register an interest in domains whose ownership was about to lapse.

Both services attracted criticism: Site Finder was criticised because Verisign attached advertising to the pages handling misdirected traffic, and collected information on this, and because it allegedly confused spam filters. The wait list service, critics said, was simply too expensive. ICANN has, however, allowed Verisign to implement that service.

Verisign has also agreed to “reiterate its support for ICANN as the appropriate technical coordination body for the DNS [domain name service]”. This is under threat from interests, particularly smaller countries, which wish to see a more equitable distribution of control and the increased involvement of governments and inter-governmenatal bodies such as the International Telecommunications Union.

Verisign has agreed not to “participate in, contribute monies for, encourage or provide any other support for activities by or of third parties that seek to undermine ICANN’s role.”

There will be “quite a number” of InternetNZ delegates at the next ICANN meeting later this month in Vancouver, Canada, where the Verisign question will no doubt be discussed, Davidson says.

InternetNZ will be heavily represented, partly for the purpose of promoting the organisation and Wellington, which was chosen as the venue for ICANN’s March 2006 meeting.

However, the man who was previously a powerful voice for InternetNZ and for country-code domains outside the big US-based ones, Peter Dengate Thrush, has had to step down from leadership of InternetNZ’s international affairs committee because of his appointment to the board of ICANN.

He continues as a member of the committee.

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