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ICANN Passes Final VeriSign Contract to DOC

The fate of the Domain Name System (DNS) is out of their hands for now.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Tuesday forwarded final copies of its agreement with VeriSign Inc. to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) as part of an agreement signed between the domain name watchdog and the world's largest registrar.

The DOC has something of a final say over the proposed agreement between the company and the governing board concerning Internet policy. At stake are the heavily contested issues of VeriSign ceding the controls of .org by 2002 and the recommendation for a competitive process in 2005 to determine the future operator of .net. Well, that and the separation of VeriSign's single legacy registry agreement covering .com, .org and .net to allow for some more fair competition among registrars. A major underpinning of the entire proceedings is whether or not VeriSign is entitled to certain legacy treatments that go back to the earliest years of the Web.

The new agreements were approved by ICANN's board of directors April 2 before Tuesday's submission to the DOC for a full review of the changes.

The changes for the registry agreements were suggested at that meeting where ICANN also voted in favor of a contract extension allowing VeriSign to remain a registrar and registry business and keep its hands on the .com domain until 2007, with concessions.

Among the concessions, after VeriSign's contract with the .org registry expires in 2003, it will give $5 million to the as-yet-unnamed organization that takes over management of the domain. The giant will fund up to $200 million for the research and development of a universal WHOIS database to list the name and owner of every domain name in the global top-level domain (of ICANN-approved domains of course).

The .net domain will stay with VeriSign until 2006, when it will go up for competitive bids.

The Commerce Department may veto the agreement as it stands if it so chooses.

To be sure, government watchdogs have taken careful measure of the proposition between VeriSign and ICANN. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton and Ed Markey, the subcommittee's top Democrat, asked the Commerce Department to take a closer look at the deal between the two outfits on March 30.

In commenting about Tuesday's deliverance of the policy revisions to the DOC, ICANN's President and Chief Executive Officer M. Stuart Lynn talked about the importance of his organization in hammering out policy for the Internet.

"It is in the interests of all Internet users-commercial and private, businesses and individuals-that ICANN continue to develop and mature as a vehicle for consensus policy development," Lynn said. "These new agreements, by eliminating much of the unique legacy treatment of VeriSign/NSI, will be a major step in that direction. They will help to maintain the continuing stability of the DNS as an important and effective part of the Internet, and will improve the ability of ICANN to serve as an effective administrator of this important resource."

In related news, ICANN has also been asked by registrar Tucows Inc. to revamp the WHOIS database policy, which contains the personal information of millions of registrants. Some of those users complained that the WHOIS database led to mass spamming to their e-mail addresses by Web hosting companies.