Registrars Refute ‘Domain Slamming’ Charges

Fighting what they say is an increasing level of desperation to keep its
customers close to the fold, registrars and Internet service providers
(ISPs) responded Friday to VeriSign charges of “domain
slamming.”

An ever-growing group of ISPs and registrars are lobbying the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to put an end to what,
in their opinion, looks like the largest registrar in the world dictating
policy for an entire industry and spreading misinformation to keep their
monopoly position.

Domain slamming gets its name from the practice by some long-distance
telephone companies of switching LD service from one carrier to another
without informing or by misinforming the customer.

Addressed to Stuart Lynn, ICANN president and chief executive officer, the
letter asks ICANN to take all the facts into consideration before making
any ruling on domain name transfers.

“We find VeriSign’s accusations which claims actions by ISP/IPPs such as
ourselves constitute “domain slamming” to be offensive accusations, which
deliberately leave out the full and true facts of the cases in order to
justify their anti-competitive positions and stance, and protect their
dominant position which they hold only because of their prior monopolistic
state. We urge ICANN to reject any suggestion by VeriSign to enforce
prohibitive policies on domain transfers, or whom has delegated that
decision to their ISP/IPP.”

It’s a rebuttal to an open letter penned earlier this week by Roger
Cochetti, VeriSign senior vice president for policy, where he told Lynn
that his company would immediately implement its own standards for
authorizing the release of domain names to competitors.

These “interim” measures, which call for the customer to notarize a
statement authorizing the release of the domain name, are the result of
what Cochetti calls domain slamming, the switch of a domain name from one
registrar to the other without the customer’s knowledge.

William Walsh, sponsor of the rebuttal letter sent to ICANN and owner of
registrar company Userfriendly.com, said the actions by himself and other
ISPs/registrars were taken to address the many inaccuracies and “blatant”
falsehoods in Cochetti’s original letter.

He paints a nightmare picture of the delays and difficulties experienced
when he recently tried to switch a customer’s domain from VeriSign-owned
registrar Network Solutions Inc., to Tucows, a Canadian-based registrar.

Under VeriSign’s new anti-slamming measures, customers have five days to
complete the authorization process from VeriSign to the gaining registrar,
or the transfer is blocked. After getting the request from the gaining
registrar, Walsh said, VeriSign is delaying the process by sending the
authorization letter to the customer two or three days after the request,
many times on a Friday afternoon.

That’s hardly enough time, he said, to respond and make it within the
five-day deadline, especially if Saturday and Sunday are included in the
deadline. And if they don’t make the deadline, the customer and
ISP/registrar are forced to begin the process anew.

That’s costly in the case of many owners who are switching their domain
names to a new registrar at the end of their domain name leasing agreement
with VeriSign. Many times, their domain expires while trying to get it
switched over to a new registrar, forcing them to pay the $35 initial
domain registration fee VeriSign charges to reinstate the domain, often to
the detriment of the gaining registrar.

“VeriSign’s practices are causing legitimate transfer requests to be
blocked or take two to three attempts to be processed,” Walsh said. “When
they are questioned about it, VeriSign’s staff blames the other registrar
for the problems. Registrants are then under the mistaken impression that
it’s the fault of the registrar they were trying to transfer to.”

The impact of the new policy is affecting registrars everywhere. Tucows
reports that in the first week of June, 70 percent of its customer transfer
requests were denied. Other registrars report similar numbers, and it
looks like it will only get worse unless steps are taken to remedy the
situation.

VeriSign critics also point to the flawed assumptions Cochetti made in his
letter to ICANN, which says that most domain customers register a domain on
their own.

Ross Rader, director of research and innovation at Tucows, says that
VeriSign officials are only telling part of the story when it comes to
customers and their domain names.

VeriSign runs under the assumption that domain registration is run under a
retail model, he said, where people go to the site and register the domain
name there. But that’s only part of it: the majority of domain name
registrations come through service providers, seen by many as the logical
source for all Internet-related services.

Doug Wolford, VeriSign mass markets general manager, said the relationship
they’re worried about is between themselves and the consumer, not with the
compeition.

“The legal relationship in the domain business is always between the
registrant and the registrar, so if you register a domain name from us and
someone wants to change that domain to another registrar, effectively what
they are doing is saying, ‘We want to change the legal relationship between
you and VeriSign,” Wolford said. “It’s our belief, and it’s supported by
contracts with ICANN and others, that we should ask you before that
contract is broken. There is, even among our community, a fairly limited
understanding of the importance of that legal relationship.”

Rader and others think that mindset is narrow thinking, especially when the
bulk of domain name registrations are handled by the ISP.

“I do not go to AT&T to buy a T-1,” Rader said. “I go to my local ISP and
they get the bandwidth, they get the IP numbers from ARIN (the American
Registry for Internet Numbers) for us, they set up my domain names. We
trust their judgment, and if we didn’t we’d go to another ISP.”

“That’s the way people buy infrastructure,” Rader continued. “It’s
ridiculous to assume that everybody in the universe is going to buy a
domain retail because of some perceived customer service benefit or pricing
benefit. A significant number of people just don’t care.”

VeriSign points to a series of unpublished surveys conducted last year that
show what they say is an alarming number of people who are victims of
domain slamming. According to Cochetti, the surveys show that as many as
one in three customers were switched to a new registrar without their
knowledge, many times from duplicitous registrars.

“While some de minimis level of customer confusion is to be expected (in
the transfer),” Cochetti said in his letter, “we were astonished at the
extent of the difference between what many registrars asserted customers
had expressly authorized, and what the customers actually disclosed to us
themselves.

Rader laughs off assertions of VeriSign worries, saying results in the
VeriSign-sponsored surveys can hardly be considered impartial.

“They’ve been talking about this magical report for months now, but despite
repeated requests, they’ve never publicized it, so we don’t know what
methodology was or the questions they asked,” Rader said. “They’re
parading this thing around like its some conclusive document that’s proving
all sorts of things. Essentially it’s allowing them to speak from an
unsupported position. Anything based on the survey, as far as I’m
concerned, is spurious and inflammatory.”

Wolford said the survey results are the only thing competitors will see,
unless ICANN decides to release the results in the future. Officials at
the governing body were given the detailed reports last year.

“I think the appropriate party to share (the surveys with) is ICANN,”
Wolford said. “ICANN is the standards-setting body in the industry and we
want them to be the ones to lead the community to a decision that’s in the
interest of consumers. It’s not something that any company should be doing
unilaterally, rather its something ICANN can take the lead in. We believe
that sharing the information with ICANN is the best way of getting that
process tightened up.

ICANN officials were unavailable for comment and haven’t gotten back to
VeriSign to talk about Cochetti’s letter. Wolford expects that is because
ICANN will practice due diligence in this matter.

“I think ICANN is viewing this as a matter that requires serious
consideration of the whole community,” Wolford said. “Our survey was
conducted very rigorously by neutral third parties, based on reports from
our customers. I think there is definitely a role ICANN can play here in
setting a standard procedure that everyone can follow and have confidence
in. What we’re concerned about is the trust people have in the registrar
community, which could be eroded by these slamming events.”

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