The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has agreed to a controversial litigation settlement with VeriSign, the operator of the Internets .com registry, outlining the future operation of the registry pending approval by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The ICANN board of directors, chaired by Internet co-founder Vint Cerf, on Feb. 28 voted 9-to-5 in favor of the settlement, with an additional board member abstaining.
The legal dispute began when ICANN ordered VeriSign to shut down its SiteFinder service (which routed mistyped Web site addresses to a VeriSign portal) in 2003, but it evolved into contractual questions between the two parties.
VeriSign applauded the boards decision, maintaining that the settlement will bring stability to the organization and will ensure needed infrastructure investment.
"The new .com registry agreement is straightforward and closely follows the .net registry agreement, with similar provisions on renewal and price controls, approved last year by the ICANN board and Department of Commerce," said Tom Galvin, a spokesperson for VeriSign. "VeriSign is committed to continuing to build and invest in the Internet infrastructure so it meets the growing needs of Internet users and operators. "
Several parties, including ICANNs At-Large Advisory Committee, which represents the interests of Internet users around the world, and eight of the largest registrars, oppose the settlement, arguing that it effectively would give VeriSign a long-term monopoly over the registry and could lead to higher prices for domain names.
"We are disappointed that after hearing from so many Internet stakeholders about why this proposal is anti-competitive, the ICANN board still approved a known bad deal," said Champ Mitchell, chairman and CEO of Network Solutions, one of the registrars. "The long-term interests of the entire Internet community must prevail over short-term expediency for a few."
The settlement gives VeriSign a right to "presumptive renewal" to its contract when it ends, and it states that the same renewal provision must be included in future contracts. It also allows VeriSign to raise the price of domain name registration by a set percentage annually without cost-justification
The Commerce Department, which has final say over the settlement, has already heard from some policy makers opposing it. Rep. Rick Boucher, R-Va., told the department that he is concerned that the agreement "would assure VeriSign the perpetual right to manage the .com [top-level domain], regardless of the maximum price it charges for initial and renewal registrations."
In a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez on Feb. 17, Boucher said that without checks and balances on renewing the registry operators contract, the perpetual control "raises serious anticompetitive concerns with wide-ranging global implications."