Internet monopoly alert!

Verisign up to its old tricks again

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VeriSign is attempting to push through a proposal which will effectively see one company control .com and .net Internet domain names, despite huge opposition from everyone else in the market.

Under its proposals, a new domain "wait listing service" (WLS) will be set up that supersedes all other domain renewal services and run by one company, SnapNames, with which Verisign has a close relationship.

Under the plan, anyone will be able to pay SnapNames $35 to "reserve" a particular .com or .net domain name were it not to be renewed. VeriSign claims this will put an end to the race for domain names once they become available.

While the idea appears reasonable at first glance, such a system immediately creates a monopoly in which the opportunities for abuse are enormous. Any domain not re-registered will fall under the control of SnapNames. It seems almost certain to favour domain registrars that it has close ties with.

It can also charge whatever it likes for the service, since there will be no other route to getting hold of an expired domain. How VeriSign arrived at the figure of $35 is anyone's guess, especially since other companies have offered to run the system for $6 per domain. SnapNames has also told investors its revenues could increase by 700 per cent as a result of the deal.

The fact that the $35 is non-refundable, even if the domain is re-registered, has led some critics to brand it a nothing but a tax. How the service would end up being marketed is anyone's guess.

It may be helpful here to remind you it took years to wrestle the .com and .net domains out of VeriSign's hands - a move that resulted in the price of new domains plummeting as competition entered the market. And, that VeriSign is still under investigation for using underhand scare tactics to force people to renew domains with itself over competitors.

However, it you still have any doubt about the company intentions, you need only look at its behaviour in attempting to force approval of WLS through Internet overseeing body ICANN. VeriSign stands to gain not only a huge amount of money but also significant control of the domain market if the deal goes through. That is the reason why the proposal still has life in it, despite being slammed by every body that has reviewed it.

A brief history of the WLS, below, is also as fine an indicator as you will find that ICANN simply cannot continue to function as it does.

  • 10 December 2001: VeriSign knocks up its proposal
  • 10 January 2002: It comes to the notice of seasoned ICANN watchers
  • 18 January: VeriSign makes its proposals formal. It is met with concern
  • 28 January: A "revised" proposal is released in which the only real change is a reduction in the cost of the service from $40 to $35. This faces even sterner criticism across the board.
  • 15 February: VeriSign produces a self-justifying document, including several gems: The 12-month "test" will only deemed to be a failure "if costs exceed revenue"; the only example of "abusive registering" it can think of is if someone gets hold of a domain and then redirects it to a porn site; a Whois on the WLS would have "no value" so there won't be one; it is "unaware of whether the WLS will eliminate or have any impact on existing models". VeriSign continues pushing proposal through
  • 10 March: The Registrars Constituency passes a resolution opposing the WLS. These are the very people that VeriSign claims will be benefit in its proposals - the WLS, it says, is a "new, streamlined business opportunity for the entire registrar community". Incredibly, very soon after, a letter signed by 18 registrars purporting to support WLS is released. Later investigation reveals that five of the registrars are owned by VeriSign, two have close links with SnapNames and another two deny ever putting their signatures to the letter. Nevertheless, the proposal continues.
  • 21 March: This time a new version - that is almost exactly the same - complete with an "analysis" on the continued criticism. This is one of the best bits. While VeriSign admits that a majority of registrars have made their opposition to the WLS clear, a nifty bit of statistical work shows that, in fact, 57.5 per cent are in favour. How? "Considering the above registrars, as well as those who did not vote in the Registrars Constituency vote and did not submit individual comments, and analyzing them in light of the size of the registrar relative to number of registrations in the SRS as of 28 February 2002, the results are: 57.5 per cent in favour; 17.8 per cent opposed; 24.7 per cent no vote or abstain."
  • 22 April:This is all the ICANN board needs to refer the proposal to a "task force" to look into the issue.
  • 5 June: The Task Force comes back with a categorical "No"
  • 10 June: Incredibly, a second report finds its way to the ICANN Board. It doesn't pass the proposal but does give it broad approval, with its Bucharest meeting on 28 June to be used to discuss the situation.
  • 29 June: The preliminary report of the Bucharest meeting states: "Whereas, the Board, although very anxious to ensure that action on VeriSign's request proceeds without unnecessary delay, believes that its consideration of the request would be assisted by receiving the final report of the DNSO's bottom-up consensus-development effort, including its views on the modifications recently proposed by VeriSign."

That report is due next Friday (26 July) and the Board "may act shortly thereafter". All previous criticisms will be deemed to have already been considered and introduced into the report. However, as keen as ever to listen to other people's views before ignoring them, ICANN has set up a forum for discussion on the issue. There are several hundreds entries at the moment, of which we have so far found only two in support.

RyanMF writes: "I see WLS as a place where you can be guaranteed a domain that is going to be deleted assuming you have reserved it before someone else. If this reserving method is a set price (nothing to high, $35USD sounds nice, a lot better then SnapNames $69USD) and not a bidding war, then I think WLS might be a good idea. So many times I've missed out on domains because of these buy domains, ult search, type guys. Maybe if WLS goes through, and I reserve a name, then I'll actually get it. Do I see what I think I see?"

Meanwhile, the rest of the world looks on as ICANN and VeriSign attempt to stitch up the Internet for their own purposes yet again. ®

Related Links

A rundown of the history of WLS, with links to all the relevant documentation Incidentally, why do you think VeriSign always insists on releasing its information in a pdf format?
The ICANN public forum
SnapNames competitor Dotster is singularly unimpressed

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