Domain Registries Line Up to Run .Net

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-12-08

Domain Registries Line Up to Run .Net

While the .com domain might get most of the attention, its smaller but still popular cousin .net is starting to gain renewed scrutiny.

For the first time since the inception of .net, companies are vying for the right to be the registry that runs and manages the worlds third most-popular domain. VeriSign Inc., which manages .com, also has held a lock on management of .net—until now.

Just this week, the Domain Name Systems main overseer, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), opened the application process for registries wanting to run .net.

ICANNs board of directors on Sunday approved a final request for proposal that outlines the selection process during its meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

Already, three registries are promising to challenge VeriSign for the domain. They include a German nonprofit, DENIC eG, which manages the worlds most-popular country code, Germanys .de.

The others are Afilias Ltd. and NeuStar Inc., two registries that run the generic domain names .info and .biz, respectively.

VeriSign also plans to apply to keep .net, a spokesman said. And the Mountain View, Calif.-based company appears ready for its challengers.

"The .net decision is the biggest decision ICANN has had to make so far because of its impact on the economy," said VeriSign spokesman Tom Galvin.

VeriSign is promoting its track record of managing .net with 100 percent uptime and detailing the domains importance as the often-invisible underpinnings for e-commerce, government sites and e-mail services.

The .net domain disproportionately is used as a transportation and communication layer on the Internet, often serving as the domain for the name servers of major companies, Galvin said. For example, about 30 percent of e-commerce traffic relies on .net, he said.

The .net domain accounts for 8 percent of all domain names, behind .com and .de, with about 5 million registered names, according to VeriSign. VeriSign gained control of .net in 2000 when it acquired Network Solutions Inc. Network Solutions had run the domain since 1992.

But VeriSigns registry competitors note that they have just as solid performance records of managing vital domain names. In some cases, the companies say they can run more advanced registry services and work more cooperatively with the registrars who sell domain names than VeriSign can.

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Perhaps the most novel of the likely .net applicants is DENIC, of Frankfurt, Germany. It was formed in 1994 by ISPs, who also register domain names, and is run as a cooperative. It manages about 8 million registered names in .de.

DENIC director Sabine Dolderer said the cooperative has proven itself to be technically capable of running a large domain but also would bring a different philosophical approach to running .net because it is not a for-profit business.

"The advantage [of a cooperative] is we can reinvest funds in the network and to bring Internet standards forward and not to bring new services forward that members dont want," Dolderer said.

Dolderer noted, for example, that DENIC would not be interested in starting registry services that could compete with registrars because its membership includes registrars.

VeriSign has raised the ire of some ICANN registrars who view services such as its proposed wait-listing service for back-ordering domain names as competing with similar services they offer.

Next Page: Afilias touts its transitioning experience.

In Transition

Afilias is focusing on its experience in transitioning a domain name from one registry to another. It manages the back-end technology for the .org domain on behalf of the Public Interest Registry.

Management of the .org domain was transferred from VeriSign to the Public Interest Registry in early 2003 after ICANN went through a registry selection process. The Internet Society won the bid for .org and formed the nonprofit Public Interest Registry to oversee the domain.

The openings of .org and .net to new registries resulted from the last registry agreement between ICANN and VeriSign. As part of that agreement in 2001, VeriSign retained the right to continue renewing its .com management in exchange for opening .org and .net to competitors.

Afilias spokeswoman Heather Carle said the Dublin, Ireland, company improved the technology behind .org with the transition, centralizing records once distributed among registrars and shortening delay from when a .org name is registered to availability in the registry database.

"We dont think the status quo is acceptable and think that .net could benefit from the enhanced technology that Afilias would bring," Carle said.

Along with .org and .info, Afilias provides registry services for seven country codes.

For its part, NeuStar is touting its background in directory services extending beyond being the registry for 2.1 million names in the .biz and the .us domains. NeuStar, of Sterling, Va., also manages the North American Numbering Plan, the telephone number directory system that matches callers.

"We manage a lot more electronic addresses than anyone else, including VeriSign, because we manage all the telephone numbers in North America—more than a billion numbers," said NeuStar spokeswoman Sue Cushing.

While competitors are preparing for the bid battle, VeriSign has been garnering support from some of the technology industrys heavy hitters. Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM were among the companies that sent letters to ICANN in support of VeriSigns .net management.

Yet VeriSign and ICANN have a rocky relationship. VeriSign earlier this year sued ICANN in a challenge to the nonprofits authority to regulate the types of service that a domain registry can offer. VeriSign accuses ICANN of exceeding its role as a technical body by blocking new services such as VeriSigns controversial SiteFinder redirection service.

The original case was thrown out of federal court, but VeriSign has continued litigation in a California state court.

With the litigation in the backdrop, ICANN officials have vowed to use an independent third party, such as an accounting firm, to review and evaluate the applications. VeriSign has supported that move. ICANNs board, though, still would make the final selection decision.

"We want to ensure that the world has confidence that the decision-making process is entirely unbiased," ICANN president and CEO Paul Twomey said. "The mere fact that someone had a lawsuit doesnt affect this decision at all, [but] its important to have an independent third party involved in the process."

Twomey declined to specify whether the ICANN board made any significant changes to the proposed process for selecting a .net registry. The approved request for proposal, which he said would be posted on ICANNs Web site earlier this week, had yet to become publicly available as of Wednesday.

None of the registries has yet submitted applications, which are due by Jan. 18. VeriSigns .net contract expires at the end of June, and ICANN expects to announce a .net successor in March in order to make any switchover in July.

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