Network Solutions Contract Deadline Looms

Friday was supposed to be a major milestone in opening up competition in
domain registration — a day when testing of the new shared registration
system built by Network Solutions was to be completed by the initial five
accredited registrars.

But so far, only register.com has come online. And Network Solutions
appears to be locked in a stalemate with the Department of Commerce over
its contractual obligation to give up control of its monopoly position.

One reason for the delay appears to be technical. According to Mike
Roberts, acting president of the Internet Corp. For Assigned Names And Numbers, the non-profit organization set up to
shepherd in domain competition, the shared registration system delivered by
NSI didn’t work according to specs, thus making it difficult for registrars
to connect and come online. Even register.com has not fully support some
aspects of the system, such as the transfer of domain registrations between
registrars.

Besides the test-bed period extension, Network Solutions and the government
are also negotiating several other open items. One key issue is the price
registrars will pay to NSI for entering registrations in its registry
database. Another outstanding matter is whether NSI is obligated to sign by
Friday an accredation agreement that would put it on equal legal footing
with other registrars.

“This is a fairly significant political moment of truth for the
relationship between the government and Network Solutions,” Roberts said.

Network Solutions spokesperson Brian O’Shaughnessy Thursday confirmed that
the company is in ongoing discussions with the Department of Commerce about
extending the test-bed period, but he wouldn’t reveal NSI’s position on the
matters under discussion.

The company is however firmly set against signing an accredation agreement
with ICANN.

“Our position is that we do not
have to become an accredited registrar by the end of the testbed. We
believe its actually a licensing agreement which gives ICANN broader
authority into the business decisions of Network Solutions. So it’s not
really in our interests to sign such an agreement.”

Department of Commerce officials didn’t respond Thursday to requests for
information about the talks. One possible outcome is that the government
will approve a limited extension to the test-bed period in order to enable
all five registrars to come online.

Such a delay would work to NSI’s advantage in several ways. For one thing,
it would allow the company to hold onto its monopoly a bit longer. An
extension could also buy NSI time to step up recent congressional lobbying
efforts aimed at challenging ICANN’s policy authority.

But continued delays in opening competition could raise the ire of ICANN’s
European board members and other non-US Internet stakeholders. Already,
some Internet users abroad are said to be growing exasperated with the US
government’s deferential handling of its contractor, Network Solutions.

Look for ICANN to mount its own congressional lobbying campaign. Sources
said several prominent Internet companies intend to join forces in support
of ICANN on Capitol Hill.

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