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First results in: People not happy with new dotcom contract

Is it any more than an ICANN staff fudge?

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People's first thoughts on the revised contract for all dotcoms have started appearing and so far it's unanimous: they hate it.

The first response on the ICANN public comment board appears to sum up most others' feelings: "Lipstick on a pig doesn't make me want to kiss it," said George Kirikos. The second poster clarified matters still further: "I'm going to put this in very big letters to make sure you can see it," wrote John Jeffers, who runs domain resale business NameMogul:

  • NO PRESUMPTIVE RENEWAL CLAUSE
  • NO PRICE INCREASE
  • NO SELLING OF TRAFFIC DATA
  • NO MONOPOLY OVER THE EXPIRED DOMAIN MARKET

The Coalition for ICANN Transparency (CFIT) certainly agreed with that, its spokesman John Berard telling us: "This agreement still does not answer our three primary concerns: prices, the presumptive right of renewal, and unfettered encroachment of existing services."

The third part is what most concerns CFIT as it is being funded by Momentous.ca - which runs Pool.com - one of the big three companies in the domain pick-up and resale business.

But Berard told us the new dotcom agreement is but Exhibit A in CFIT's wider case against ICANN. Exhibit B, he said, was likely to be the way ICANN handles the process from this point.

Public comment ends on February 20, but on past experience it is likely that a special meeting of the ICANN Board will be held between then and the ICANN meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, on March 25-31, with the sole purpose of pushing the agreement through.

It's not just people whose business will be squashed by the changes that are annoyed though. A very large number of people are opposed to VeriSign being given a "presumptive right of renewal" on the dotcom registry - which effectively gives it a lifelong dotcom monopoly.

Such an agreement is extremely difficult to justify - so ICANN doesn't even bother. "It is important to point out the presumptive renewal right is present in the 2001 .COM agreement and calls for that right to be carried forward in subsequent agreements," reads the explanation as to why no change has been made on the ICANN website.

The whole point of contract negotiation, critics point out, is that you negotiate a new contract. There is nothing that prevents ICANN from refusing a renewal right, but it is clear VeriSign feels strongly about it.

Intriguingly, one critic of the agreement is the company that first ran the dotcom registry and was controversially bought and sold by VeriSign - Network Solutions. "Although Network Solutions welcomes changes that would prevent ICANN registry fees from being passed directly to registrars," said chief policy counsel Jonathon L Nevett, "relief is inadequate for two of the most troubling aspects of the proposals, including 'presumptive renewal' provisions and registration fee increases that would not have to be cost-based in most years."

At first glance, we reported that VeriSign would have to justify any price increases in four out of the six years the contract covers. In fact, it is the opposite - VeriSign will have price-raising carte blanche powers for four years and will have to justify price rises for two - something you can be certain it will manage to do.

Nevett argues that "without any reasonable opportunity ever for the contract to be rebid elsewhere, it would put the internet community at risk by eliminating competition for the .com registry".

In short, people are unhappy that their complaints appear to have been listened to and then sold short with nothing but minor tweaks. It seems to have been effective on the simplest to understand, and hence most dangerous, issue of rising dotcom prices.

The headline on the Associated Press story that has subsequently been reprinted across the media (thanks to widespread ignorance of such "technical" matters by the mainstream press) was "Deal places limits on '.com' price hikes". VeriSign couldn't have hoped for better.

ICANN will be hoping to get the agreement signed and put in the drawer as soon as possible. Whether the internet industry - which knows the deal stinks but can also see that any deal is better than none - feels strongly enough to stop the signing remains to be seen.®

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