DoC shrugs off Simsgate to rubber stamp VeriSign monopoly

Cheques and balances

Checklist: water the rubber plants for the weekend, turn all the office lights out and, oh yes - sign-off the VeriSign domain name monopoly for another five years. Then home.

It was a particularly eventful Friday at the Department of Commerce, which timed rubber stamping the VeriSign deal for the moment (five o'clock) when most reporters assumed the negotiations would carry over into next week. VeriSign got what it wanted - and what ICANN wanted - in the form of sovereignty over the .com domain name until 2007.

As a sop to its critics, VeriSign agreed to cede the .org business in 2002, and the .net business in 2005, although bidding may start in 2003 if VeriSign fails to meet DoC oversights, which include annual audits. How vigorous will this oversight be, exactly?

"We are going to approve them, and step back," said DoC general counsel Ted Kessinger.

In the DoC statement, VeriSign acknowledged that it did not claim immunity from antitrust actions.

So that's that? Well there's the pesky business of the Administrative Procedures Act to contend with. That's supposed to ensure that government rule-making is free, fair and transparent. If it can be upheld that the DoC-ICANN relationship constitutes government rule making, and doesn't fall under one of several exemptions, it's hard to see how either party can waltz away. For example, when ICANN set eligiblity requirements for competing registrars, it was effectively setting Commerce Department rules, albeit at an arms length. And the Simsgate Memos prove that ICANN was angling for a favourable deal from VeriSign as its preferred bidder. The latter is sure to feature prominently in litigation

Neither ICANN nor the Commerce Department are out of the woods just yet. ®

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