The overseer of the Internets domain naming system is closer to approving a controversial service for back-ordering Web addresses.
The subject of past lawsuits and congressional hearings, the wait listing service, or WLS, is expected to be the most contentious issue during next weeks meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in Rome. ICANNs board of directors is scheduled to consider approving the WLS during its March 6 meeting there.
Word of an impending decision on the service began spreading last week among registrars, the companies accredited by ICANN to register Web addresses for consumers and business. ICANN, after its board delayed action on the service last week, posted a January letter outlining the completion of final negotiations with VeriSign Inc., the registry that manages the .com and .net domains and that is seeking to launch the WLS. VeriSign, of Mountain View, Calif., also sent e-mails to registrars about the negotiations.
“The WLS will be a front and center issue in Rome,” said Christine Jones, general counsel for registrar GoDaddy Software Inc., of Scottsdale, Ariz. “It looks like a decision is imminent, and so many members of the registrar community are opposed to it in its current fashion.”
The service, first proposed in 2002, would allow those seeking a particular domain name to pay for the right to claim it in the event the current registration expires. Only one person could place a reservation on a given domain name.
ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey declined to speculate on the likelihood that the board will approve the service next week, but he said that ICANN and its board have considered the full range of opinions on the service.
“You couldnt make the case that there has not been consultation, and you could not make the case that people have not been heard and you could not make the case that the board hasnt considered this carefully,” said Twomey, in an interview with eWEEK.com.
GoDaddy was one of three registrars that sued ICANN in July 2003 to block the WLS; the others were Dotster Inc. and eNom Inc. In November, a federal judge denied the registrars request for a preliminary injunction against ICANN. Then in December, Jones said, the registrars dismissed the case. She declined to offer details about the dismissal, citing confidentiality requirements.
But registrars are continuing to pressure ICANN to stall and possibly abandon the service, alleging that giving VeriSign the exclusive authority to manage the back-ordering of registered domain names amounts to an abuse of monopoly power and hurts consumers since they must pay a fee higher than a domain-name registration to back order a domain name that they may never get.
Early last week, a coalition of unnamed registrars threatened legal action against ICANN if its board were to approve the WLS. The letter from Derick Newman, a partner at Newman & Newman Attorneys At Law LLP in Seattle, alleges that the service would violate state and federal consumer protection and unfair competition laws. Newman declined to provide the names of the registrars he is representing.
“At first blush it sounds good,” Newman said of VeriSigns proposed WLS. “But its just a big scam against consumers, and no one gets anything for the money theyre paying.”
Newman said the registrants of the most sought-after domain names will never let them expire, especially since they would be informed if someone else buys a WLS subscription on the name. Also, many registrars already have created their own competitive back-ordering services, Newman said.
An ICANN spokesman said the organization does not plan to respond to the registrar coalitions letter.
The WLS would not preclude registrars from running their own back-ordering services, Twomey said. ICANNs focus has been on ensuring that any VeriSign-run service offers equal access to domain-name information for all registars.
“This all comes down to money, and it all comes down to which segment of the renewal market various people are targeting,” Twomey said. “I dont think ICANNs role is to determine who should be making money in a particular segment and who shouldnt be.”
In response to Newmans letter, VeriSign spokesman Tom Galvin pointed to the federal judges November decision, saying it sides with ICANN and VeriSign on much of Newmans arguments.
Said Galvin, “We have spent over two years working with ICANN and the Internet community on the WLS, and we look forward to a resolution.”
The wait listing service, once approved by ICANNs board, also must be approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Editors Note: This story was first published on Feb. 25, and then later updated to include comments from ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey.