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Last Minute Surge of Opposition to VeriSign .NET Auto Renewal

Joly MacFie

The current .NET Registry Agreement between ICANN and VeriSign is due to expire on 30 June 2011. On April 11 2011 ICANN posted a proposed draft renewal agreement for public comment. Under the terms of the existing agreement, which contracted a 6 year term starting July 1 2005, renewal is automatic unless VeriSign commits some egregious breach of terms. Although ICANN has made some tweaks this clause (4.2) is unchanged in the new draft.

In 2002 VeriSign, which had in 2000 purchased the .com, .net, and .org registries agreed, under pressure from ICANN, to give up .org, and to compete on equal terms for the renewal .net in 2005 and .com in 2007 (.org eventually ended up being operated by the Public Interest Registry (PIR) on behalf of the Internet Society).

However VeriSign still held an ace — it operated the root zone and, as they say, possession is nine/tenths of the law. Starting in 2004 VeriSign also launched a barrage of lawsuits against ICANN, essentially challenging its authority and crippling it financially.

In early 2005, the 'competitive process' to assign .net took place. VeriSign — in what was described as a deeply flawed process — won. Then, in October 2005, came the 'monster deal' — VeriSign dropped it's lawsuits, gave up control of the root, and agreed to regulation of "non-registry services" in return for renewed 6 year contracts on .com and .net. What evidently wasn't apparent at the time — as nobody appears to have commented on it, was that the wording in these contracts actually gave them control in perpetuity.

Thus, when the draft renewal agreement was announced in April 2011 it received little attention. However in just the last few days — the deadline for public comment was May 10 — suddenly a flurry of comment appeared. Correspondence, especially out of the North American Regional At-Large Organization (NARALO), of which ISOC-NY is an At-Large Structure, noted that under the 2009 Affirmation of Commitments that gave ICANN its independence, it undertook to make decisions solely in the public interest through a multi-stakeholder bottom-up policy development model. It was also noted that ICANN's partner in the AoC, the United States National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has itself recently demanded that ICANN perform economic studies before any further delegation of top level domains (TLDs) and also that ICANN provide "a thorough and reasoned explanation of decisions taken”.

At the monthly NARALO monthly meeting on May 9 the issue was raised of questioning the automatic renewal or, at least the renewal of the automatic renewal clause in the new contract, and also asking ICANN to clarify the process by which it came to be in the first place. There was enough concern expressed at the meeting that Olivier Crepin-Leblond, chair of the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) moved rapidly to contact the ICANN board support staff and gain a window — an extension until May 18 — for the ALAC to gather input from the At-Large community for a statement to present to the board in advance of its retreat May 20 -21 2011.

The draft of the statement is at https://community.icann.org/x/noHg — if you have further comments they can be added there (or below).  The deadline is tomorrow May 17 2011.

By Joly MacFie, VP (Admin) - ISOC-NY
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Incorrect George Kirikos  –  May 16, 2011 6:38 PM PDT

It's incorrect to state that "What evidently wasn't apparent at the time — as nobody appears to have commented on it, that the wording in these contracts actually gave them control in perpetuity."

I wrote an article on ICANNWatch at the time on that specific point, and submitted a public comment on the same point in the relevant public comment period. Others submitted support of that point of view, opposed to the settlement, if you read the public comment archives with over 400 comments.

Of course, ICANN's Board made an overwhelmingly bad decision, despite the public opposition.

What's the connection to new TLDs? Christopher Parente  –  May 19, 2011 12:47 PM PDT

Joly — interesting post but I don't understand your linkage of the .net renewal to the consideration of new TLDs. Can you elaborate?

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