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VeriSign Files Suit Against ICANN

Lawyers for VeriSign , registry for the .com and .net top-level domains (TLDs) and the largest registrar in the world, filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Thursday.

The lawsuit contends ICANN broke its contract with VeriSign when it prohibited and delayed the registrar from providing valuable Internet services like its SiteFinder and waiting-list service (WLS), according to the suit filed at the U.S. District Court, Central District Court of California, Los Angeles.

Tom Galvin, VeriSign vice president of government relations, said the heart of the lawsuit is a contract dispute: ICANN as a technical body doesn't have the right to dictate policy or prevent companies that introduce value-added benefits to customers.

"ICANN's ambition has exceeded its authority," he told internetnews.com. "It has, over time, attempted to become the de facto regulator of the Internet when it's mission is to be the technical coordination body."

ICANN was formed in 1998 at the behest of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), to act as a technical body for the U.S. root server, which holds the .com, .net and .org top-level domains (TLDs). The DOC was not named in the lawsuit.

VeriSign was the original registry for the three TLDs, the service that transforms unwieldy IP addresses like "" into the easier-to-read "www.internetnews.com." In time, the registry became the largest registrar -- the company that sells domain names -- in the world after its $21 billion acquisition of Network Solutions in 2000.

Since then, many competitors have been worried about any programs instituted by the registrar arm of the registry, which gives itself an unfair advantage.

One of those is the WLS, which lets users sign up on a waiting list for domain names that are about to expire. ICANN signed off on the service in August 2002, despite vocal resistance by competing registrars, only to pull it off the shelves after a coalition of those registrars filed a lawsuit against the organization.

SiteFinder was a marketing program instituted by VeriSign late last year. Normally, when an Internet surfer types in the wrong Web address, like "www.googel.com," they'd get a 404 error message, or a preset error page rendered by the Web browser.

With SiteFinder, after typing in an incorrect Web address, users would be sent to a VeriSign-created Web page, giving the errant surfer a chance to buy the domain name and links to paid advertisers.

Launched quietly in November, it created a firestorm with competing registrars and Internet citizens concerned over the ramifications of introducing "wildcards" into the .com and .net domain space.

ICANN again had VeriSign take down the service, while its committees gathered information and issued its recommendations.

For Galvin, however, the time for talking has passed. While he emphasized his company's commitment and support for ICANN, something needs to be done about the organization's decision-making processes. Since stopping the WLS service, the issue has sat in committee, while the report over the SiteFinder service that was promised in January has yet to surface.

"This really became a culmination of efforts that frankly we have exhausted over the last several months of trying to reach some kind of understanding with ICANN about what their jurisdiction is and what the process is when they have jurisdiction," he said.

Both issues, WLS and SiteFinder, will be discussed at next week's tri-annual ICANN meetings in Rome, ICANN officials said at a press conference Thursday.