ICANN domain-name agreement windfall for Verisign

After several years of squabbling, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) last night agreed to let VeriSign manage the valuable .com domain of Web addresses until 2012.

The company will also be allowed to renew its .com management agreement automatically, without any competitive bidding. Nine ICANN board members voted in favor of the agreement, five voted against it, and one abstained.

Pending approval of the agreement by the Department of Commerce, ICANN will allow VeriSign to raise the fee it charges for .com domain registrations by 7 percent annually starting in 2007, but only for four of six years. VeriSign must give current registrants six months notice of the increase, and existing customers will have the ability to register at the current rate of US$6 a year for up to 10 years.

In a telephone press briefing earlier today, ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey sounded relieved that the organization's battle with VeriSign appeared to be over. Twomey said the agreement "ends the long-standing cold war between ICANN and registry services."

Still, he was close to apologetic when he explained that the organization felt constrained by previous domain-registration agreements with VeriSign, claiming that this was "probably the best deal that was possible in these negotiations."

Much of the disagreement stems from VeriSign's short-lived Site Finder service that redirected people who entered incorrect Web addresses to sites that paid a per-click fee back to the company. VeriSign withdrew the service in October 2003 after just a few weeks at ICANN's request, but later VeriSign sued ICANN over the issue.

The agreement approved yesterday is the last word on Site Finder, unless VeriSign chooses to allow an ICANN arbitration committee to review the service beforehand, according to Twomey.

Twomey was unwilling to hazard a guess as to when or if the Department of Commerce would give the agreement its seal of approval.

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