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ICANN Says Yes to WLS

The board of directors at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved the next implementation of VeriSign's Waitlisting Service (WLS), a controversial domain name service that has sparked a number of lawsuits.

During the last day of its week long meeting in Rome Saturday, a majority of ICANN board members voted to ask the U.S. Department of Commerce to approve and amend the VeriSign registry agreements that permit the offering of the wait listing service.

The move comes less than a week after VeriSign sued ICANN over the WLS, contending that ICANN broke its contract with VeriSign when it prohibited and delayed the registrar from launching the WLS along with other services such as VeriSign's SiteFinder service.

Separately, a group of eight Internet domain name registrars has filed suit against both ICANN and VeriSign in another bid to block the WLS. That suit claims that the WLS is "anti-consumer, anti-competitive and unnecessary" and favors better-funded speculators who can pay hefty fees for waitlisting choice domain names. The suit also charges that the WLS will stifle innovation.

Despite ICANN's latest approval, however, VeriSign now has to wait until the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) approves the service. The DoC has final say over the WLS as the result of an amendment to ICANN's 1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Commerce Department.

For two years, the Marina del Ray, Calif.-based technical standards body and VeriSign, which handles the registry for the .com and .net top-level domains (TLDs), have been sparring over the WLS, a service that puts domain name wannabes under one consolidated list, essentially cutting out competitive registrars.

Over the intervening years, ICANN has both approved the service and then delayed it while it reviewed issues surrounding it.

Naseem Javed, president of registrar ABC Name Bank and a domain-naming consultant, said he feels better about the DoC making a final decision about WLS than ICANN, which he said has been inconsistent in the past.

"They know they can't come out of the hat with quick policies the way they did, or make sudden changes. They realize now that they have to follow the procedures," he told internetnews.com.

The "Department of Commerce understands business and commerce and knows more than what academia or a political group would do," Javed added. "They would respect, they would look differently at the intellectual property component, they will have much more organization and structure. I feel much better with (WLS) in the hands of the Department of Commerce now than in the hands of ICANN."

Unfortunately for VeriSign, deferring final approval to the Commerce Department could shelve the WLS issue again, which is already two years in discussion through the ICANN process. Javed noted that the DoC can take years to deliberate on issues such as WLS.

At press time, officials at Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign as well as ICANN weren't available for comment.

It was also unclear how the latest move by ICANN would impact the status of the lawsuit VeriSign has filed against ICANN. The complaint against ICANN on the WLS issue was not the only item mentioned in the suit. It also sought redress on the issue of SiteFinder, which ICANN asked the registry to shut down until a technical report of the ramifications could be published. It was due in January.

The anti-trust lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of California, Los Angeles, also charges ICANN has stepped outside its mandate by regulating Internet policies and services. According to the MOU between ICANN and the DoC, the organization is a technical body charged with ensuring the stability of the U.S. root server, which holds the domain extensions .com, .net. and .org, among others.