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VeriSign loses control of .org domain

A Pyrrhic victory

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Domain monopolist VeriSign is to hand over the .org domain name over to a non-profit organisation (as was the original intention) at the end of 2002. This is the first step on a long road to remove VeriSign's special status and break up the gentleman's club that is Internet infrastructure. It will however retain ownership of the .com and .net TLDs.

VeriSign - in its former incarnation as Network Solutions - was the beneficiary of several lovely deals with the US government and then ICANN. In 1993, it was basically given a monopoly on domain names. It decided that $70 for a two-year domain name licence was about right and made billions on the back of it.

At the end of 1999, however, the US government decided enough was enough. And so it told NSI that unless it splits its ownership of the registry for TLDs with its registration service for those domain names, it wouldn't let it maintain its monopoly after November 2003. If was a good boy, it got to keep the Registry for a further four years, until November 2007.

VeriSign was obviously shocked that it had only four years to profit from its position. And so what it's done is gone to ICANN this year (2001) and said it will hand over the .org domain as long as it can continue to make a fortune on the back of .com and .net. You can imagine how hard a choice it was between the three domains.

This is a good solid agreement for the benefit of the Internet, said ICANN. This is a good solid agreement for the benefit of the Internet, said VeriSign. Verisign will hand over .org domain and this is a good solid agreement for the benefit of the Internet, said all the media companies that had read the two press releases. This is toss, says The Register.

One of the major, major concerns we have with all ICANN decisions is it's apparent confidence that four years is a good timeframe for handing out its all-encompassing contracts. Do you remember what the Internet was four years ago? Not much, let's be honest. And can you imagine what it will be like in four years' time? So why does VeriSign get the registry (and registration) until 2007?

One thing that ICANN and VeriSign consistently point to is the fact that the cost of domain has plummeted. This is true. But is the implication that this was thanks to ICANN and VeriSign true? No, it's not. Make a mug and it'll cost you £5. Make 30, you could knock it down to say £3 each. Make 200 million of them and you'll see things get a little cheaper. This is all that's happened to the Internet.

ICANN has knighted around 180 registrars now. And they, apparently, have made the market competitive. That's why VeriSign only takes about 40 per cent of new registrations. Isn't that good? No, it's not. It's rubbish. VeriSign has basically sacrificed its weakest branch so it can continue to gain unfair advantage on .coms and .nets.

That is a poor situation. And it's one that will be tied up in contracts - two years before the renegotiation was due to start - if no one stops it now. There's a public discussion in Australia on 12 March on this topic. ICANN has also set up a public forum here. Posters so far don't seem so impressed.

That was a tenner we gave you. No, it wasn't, it was a fiver. It was a tenner. Well I'm only giving you change for a fiver. ®

Related Links

Public discussion forum
ICANN press release
VeriSign press release

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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