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ICANN's VeriSign registry deal done without consultation

Is it a complete stitch-up?

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ICANN has come under fire at its Melbourne conference by effectively passing a controversial new deal with root registrar VeriSign without consulting anyone.

The "deal" will see Network Solutions (now part of VeriSign) hand over the .org registry at the end of 2002 and the .net registry by 2005. It will keep control of the .com registry. Both parties are passing it off as a great compromise but everyone else in the world sees it as a continuation of NSI's monopolistic powers and the status quo.

A number of registrars, including Register.com, have already sent a letter to ICANN complaining about the deal, saying it would undermine the competition that was finally beginning to arrive in the registry business.

But this is all bye-the-bye because ICANN has done it again and bypassed all concerned bodies with a combination of contracts and careful timing. Unless agreement is met by the ICANN board, NSI and the US Department of Commerce by 10 May this year for NSI to split up its registry and registrar business, an automatic extension to NSI's root monopoly will not occur. So rather than having control of all .coms, .net and .orgs until 2007, it will only have them until 2003. The deal could be seen as "out of the frying pan into the fire".

Note that agreement is only needed by the ICANN board.

And so, the subject of who will effectively control the Internet came up for discussion at the ICANN conference. Under "any other business". Michael Schneider - representing ISPs and member of the Names Council - expressed surprise that the issue had appeared out of nowhere and said he hadn't had time to review the situation. The same point was made by some other big-hitters including NC members Grant Forysth, Paul Kane, Carlos Martinez, Philip Sheppard among others.

Arguing the case for accepting the agreement was Joe Sims from ICANN's lawyers Jones Day Reavis and Pogue. Sims is the man responsible for ICANN's ambiguous bylaws that effectively let the Board rewrite the organisation whenever they see fit.

He delivered a small presentation as to why the deal should be passed. "Pros" included the separation of the registry contracts (so NSI has three controlling contracts rather than just one), bringing the NSI in line with other registrars, reduce government involvement (at the moment, we'd rather have the government in overall charge) and minimise the "potential" for future conflicts.

The "possible cons". "Allows VeriSign to retain registrar" and "Creates presumption of renewal for .com". Hmmm, which looks better?

Fortunately, the gathered were having none of it. It will impede competition, it relies on ICANN to get it right (more power for ICANN) and why the hell haven't the DNS organisations been asked about this?

No matter, Sims points out that they're in a straight-jacket. Martinez asks if the proposal is open for revision depending on what the public (that's you and me) and the DNSO say? No, says Sims. Because we have to decide the issue by 10 May. Apart from the people that created the deal, everyone else can either agree or disagree with it.

We would ask: then what's the point in having a public forum or even the DNSO? Sims also points out that there is no mention of a splitting between the registry and registrar functions in the new deal; no, that was the last deal. Attendees complained that the split was part of ICANN policy. No it's not, said Sims (he's right). But people believe it is. Not my concern, said Sims.

Many complained about the last-minute posting of the deal. Sims responded: "Last-minute postings are a valid point. But it would be of greater concern if we were talking about policy decisions rather than a negotiated amendment to a contract. This does not change or create ICANN policy. No part of the DNSO has a required role in development of contractual arrangements." Can ICANN become any more Kafkaesque?

A request for an extension to the date so proper thought could be given to a very important change was also rebuked - any delay would have to be agreed by ICANN, NSI and the DoC. And so time is short. And we are witness to yet another stitch-up.

Of course, what we should all remember as well is that the original agreement in 1999 was only arrived at after some significant leaning on NSI. Before then, NSI was threatening to challenge ICANN's authority and throw the whole Internet up in the air. ICANN forced it down, NSI offered to pay it around £2.5 million and keep ICANN afloat. This "deal" may be the NSI's payback. And if the ICANN top bods decide to get it through, they ain't gonna be anyone to stop em. ®

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