• United States

Who should control the ‘Net?

Mar 06, 20064 mins

“The deal condenses everything that is wrong with how the Internet is currently run in one tiny document. How vital decisions about the global Internet are made by one of three bodies – ICANN, VeriSign and the U.S. Department of Commerce – and how their complicated and difficult relationships consistently produce decisions and agreements and settlements that are a million miles from what they should be, and could be if the globalness of the Internet was actually pulled in.”

– “ICANN approves dotcom contract, signs own death warrant,” entry on Kieran McCarthy’s blog

The deal referred to in McCarthy’s blog is the latest bit of bad judgment from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and stems from its settlement of a court case initiated by VeriSign, the company that has historically been the controlling registrar for the Internet’s .com and .net top-level domains (TLD).

The legal issue at stake was VeriSign’s claim that ICANN had overstepped its contractual authority and delayed approval of VeriSign’s proposed new services, specifically a waiting list service for expired domain names and the selling of internationalized domain names.

The settlement, which has enraged many domain name registrars, not only leaves control of the two TLDs in VeriSign’s hands without a competitive bid process, but also permits VeriSign to increase the price of .com and .net domain registrations after Jan. 1, 2007, and gives it control (in effect, ownership) of expired domain names.

An open letter to ICANN, signed by eight major registrars from the United States, Europe and Asia, outlines the key problems with the settlement. First, the settlement permits VeriSign to “increase prices by 7% annually in four of the next six years without cost justification . . . at a time when fees for .com should be decreasing, not rising.” It is claimed that this alone will result in a windfall for VeriSign of more than $3 billion.

Second, the renewal clauses make VeriSign’s contract essentially non-cancelable and removes ICANN’s right to re-bid. Finally, the registrars argue the settlement gives VeriSign “an unregulated monopoly that runs counter to the reasons behind why ICANN was created, the policies of the anti-trust laws of the United States, and the competition policies of many nations worldwide.”

This issue is at the heart of a lawsuit that the World Association of Domain Name Developers and the Coalition for ICANN Transparency – trade groups that represent nearly 300 registrars – has brought against VeriSign and ICANN.

ICANN has, once again, demonstrated that it is not capable of managing the Internet. Much of the rest of the planet has a problem with ICANN because it is a U.S. organization that is under contract with the Department of Commerce. That wouldn’t be a bad thing were it not for the fact that ICANN does not behave in a fair-handed way even in the United States, let alone in respect to other countries.

It is time for the U.S. government, which holds the Internet reins, to take a step back and look at the big picture. That big picture is easy to see: The struggle is over control of the standards and management of the Internet. The problem is that the U.S. government does not yet recognize the scale of the Internet. It is now truly global, which makes it effectively unmanageable by any single nation if the needs of the majority are to be fairly met.

If Internet governance isn’t handed over to a world body such as the United Nations, it could well be taken away by simple configuration changes (such as establishing alternate DNS root servers), which could cause huge problems for U.S. businesses and consumers.

Alternatively, if the United States voluntarily hands over control and does so soon, there’s a good chance we can drive the principles under which the Internet is governed to ensure that we are properly represented.

Your bet? Tell


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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