The department of commerce will soon have two important issues before it that could have major impact on the future function of the Internets domain name system, but there are concerns that the agencys new management may not be paying sufficient attention.
The situation gained new urgency on April 2 when the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers approved a controversial agreement giving VeriSign control of the registry — the database of registered names — for dot-com until at least 2007, and likely beyond. The new deal also allows the company, which until mid-1999 had a monopoly on the market, to keep its retail business of registering domain names for the public, contrary to a 1999 agreement.
ICANN and VeriSign agreed to some last-minute changes called for by critics who worry that the deal will hurt competition, but those critics said the changes did not address their most pressing concerns.
The DOC must still approve the agreement.
Opponents of the deal said they plan to urge the department to block it, even though they fear such efforts may be futile. They cited the fact that no one has yet been named to head the DOC agency that oversees ICANN.
"People at the [DOC] will be rubber-stamping this," said Larry Erlich, president of DomainRegistry.com, one of VeriSigns competitors.
Similar concerns have been raised about ICANNs approval of seven new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs), which also must be blessed by the DOC before they can be entered into the Internets root server system.
Some of those that unsuccessfully submitted bids to operate one of the new names said the process was unfair.
ICANN is working to finalize contracts with the winners.
Critics of both the VeriSign deal and the new gTLD process have complained to Congress. Leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently called on the DOC to give the VeriSign deal proper scrutiny.
According to DOC spokesman Jim Dyke, the agency is following ICANNs activities closely. In reference to the VeriSign deal, he said the department will make sure "competition and consumer concerns are taken into consideration."