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VeriSign Holds .com Control in ICANN Deal

VeriSign is poised to maintain control of the .com registry until at least 2012, maybe even longer.

ICANN, the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers, voted in favor of ratifying a new deal with VeriSign for administration of the .com registry.

In a special meeting of ICANN's Board of Directors, which is chaired by Internet luminary Vint Cerf, the directors voted 9 to 5 with one abstention in favor of the revised deal with the domain name registrar.

Under the terms, VeriSign will likely retain control of the .com registry until at least 2012, with the possibility for renewal after that. It also means VeriSign could increase wholesale domain prices in four of the next six years.

In a statement, VeriSign said the new .com registry agreement is straightforward and closely follows the .net registry agreement, with similar provisions on renewal and price controls, which were approved last year by the ICANN Board and Department of Commerce.

"VeriSign is committed to continuing to build and invest in the Internet infrastructure so it meets the growing needs of Internet users and operators," spokesman Tom Galvin said. "VeriSign hopes all members of the Internet community, including registrars, will join in ensuring the DNS continues to run reliably for the hundreds of millions of users who depend on it every day."

The new revised deal itself was an update of an October agreement that was intended to settle all outstanding litigation between ICANN and VeriSign.

Although the latest agreement ends recent litigation between ICANN and VeriSign, it does not end domain registrars' opposition to the deal.

Eight of the largest registrars in the world, which together represent over 50 percent of all .com registrants, have formally opposed the agreement. They claim it will create a monopoly for VeriSign in near perpetuity.

The agreement now goes before the U.S. Department of Commerce for final approval.

VeriSign has administered the .com domain name space on behalf of ICANN since 2001. The legal spat between the two first flared in 2004 when VeriSign alleged breach of contract. The lawsuit contended that ICANN broke its contract with VeriSign when it prohibited and delayed the registrar from providing Internet services such as its SiteFinder and waiting-list service (WLS).

The WLS was designed to let users sign up for a waiting list of domain names that are about to expire. ICANN was pressured to pull the service after a coalition of registrars filed a lawsuit over the arrangement, saying it gave VeriSign an unfair advantage in selling domain registrations.

The SiteFinder service was a marketing program instituted by VeriSign that would redirect users to a VeriSign-created Web page if they typed in the wrong address, such as Googel.com. The service offered the wayward surfer a chance to buy the domain name and links to paid advertisers. That, too, came under fire by competing registars that claimed it gave VeriSign an unfair advantage.

Though the latest agreement will end litigation between ICANN and VeriSign, ICANN faces a new lawsuit filed by The Coalition for ICANN Transparency (CFIT), and The World Association of Domain Name Developers (WADND), which oppose the deal.

CFIT spokesperson John Berard said voting in favor of a bad deal doesn't change the deal's dynamics. He said it just confirms ICANN's refusal to listen to legitimate criticism coming from every corner of the Internet community.

"There will not be less litigation. There will likely be more litigation," Berard warned in a statement. "CFIT's suit against ICANN and VeriSign will certainly continue, especially in light of the fact that the judge in the case has upheld our antitrust claims."

Domain registrars, CFIT and congressman Rick Boucher, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus, have expressed antitrust concerns about the deal. Boucher has written letters to the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice urging the federal agencies to carefully consider the deal.

According to a calculation by domain registrar BulkRegistrar, VeriSign stand to gross over $3 billion dollars between 2006 and 2012 from the deal. VeriSign has disputed the press release by BulkRegistrar, however, and questioned how it came up with the amount.