Boffins to decide future of .net domains

Verisign links

ICANN has named the people that will decide who gets to run all .net Internet domains from July.

Two weeks after the deadline ended for applications to run all 5.1 million .net addresses, revealing five contendors, telco Telcordia has been revealed as the evaluator.

A team of ten from Telcordia, headed by Internet veteran Dr David Sincoskie will now review, analyse and visit the premises of each bidder: Afilias, Core++, Denic, Santan and VeriSign.

ICANN has gone to great lengths to make sure that the already heated process is as independent as possible. It stressed the team's credentials, calling it an "international panel of DNS experts [which] possesses 270 years of collective industry experience, with particular emphasis in networks, information databases, security and operations".

ICANN has been careful not to name each team member individually - something that would undoubtably have led to intense lobbying and possibly even character assassination. But it has revealed that the evaluation team "includes two IEEE Fellows; a member of the National Academy of Engineering; a multi-cultural/multi-national composition, with nationals ofCroatia, Greece, Pakistan, Taiwan, the UK and the US. In addition, 60 per cent of the team possesses PhDs, spanning CS, EE and Economics."

On top of this, it has produced a full disclosure by Telecordia, outlining all possible links, which ICANN's chief lawyer concluded were "highly unlikely to influence any aspect of the evaluation".

What ties there are would benefit incumbent operator VeriSign. The disclosure points out that Telcordia was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). It fact its acquisition by Warburg and Providence has only just been approved by the EU and SAIC stills owns it at the moment.

Also, the CEO of Telcordia, Matthew Desch, is on SAIC's board. As is William Roper, who appears to be a member of the evaluation team. Roper is also a director of VeriSign. Dr Sincoskie also worked for VeriSign former incarnation, Network Solutions, in 1998-1999.

SAIC also owned Network Solutions / VeriSign for a fair time. This is stated in the disclosure: "Prior to 2000, SAIC had an ownership interest in Network Solutions (NSI). In June 2000, NSI merged and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of VeriSign. During 2003, SAIC sold all of its shares of VeriSign and no longer holds equity collars or an investment in VeriSign as a result of these transactions."

This statement somewhat simplifies a highly controversial element of net history that often gets the conspiracy theorists going - SAIC's purchase of NSI for a ridiculously cheap sum.

SAIC - itself a peculiar organisation with close links to the Pentagon - bought NSI for around $5m in stock in March 1995. Six months later, NSI was given the right by the US government to start charging for domain names - something that began at $100 for two years. Before then all domains were free to the owner and NSI was paid a flat multi-million-dollar by the US government.

SAIC picked up the purchase of a lifetime when it acquired a company with a contract over all .com, .net and .org domains for the next five years for less that it was paid in one year. Five years later, NSI was sold for $19.2bn - a value increase of 3,840 per cent.

Not that this intriguing bit of Net history will influence the evaluators' decision but it seems very unlikely that VeriSign will complain about the choice made by ICANN.

We still believe it's a two-horse race between Denic and VeriSign. ®

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