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Verisign, ICANN Amend Domain Agreement

by Joris Evers

Verisign and ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) have amended the agreements reached almost two years ago regarding control of .com, .net, and .org Internet domains.

ICANN and Mountain View, Calif.-based VeriSign announced Thursday that VeriSign will relinquish control of the .org domain for non-profit organizations by December of next year, followed by the .net domain in January 2006. The company will keep control of the popular .com domain until Nov. 10, 2007, according to a news release.

ICANN, of Marina del Rey, Calif., has also given VeriSign a special presumption that it will be allowed to manage the world's most crowded domain, .com, after 2007, according to an article in Thursday's The Wall Street Journal. A spokesman for ICANN was not aware of that reported detail and so could not confirm it.

VeriSign gained control over the three domains when it acquired Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) in a 21-billion-dollar all-stock deal in March 2000.

The new agreement also takes away the need for VeriSign to spin off the registry division into a completely separate company. When the first agreement was reached, competitors felt maintaining the registry gave NSI an unfair sales advantage.

The original agreement between NSI, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and ICANN in late 1999 called for NSI to retain control over the .com, .net, and .org domains until at least 2004. If the company had split up in a registrar and registry business within 18 months of signing the deal, which would have been before May of this year, the contract would have been extended for another four years until 2008.

The talks on the new deal, which still has to be approved by ICANN's board and the Department of Commerce, were driven by VeriSign's falling market share for domain sales, a spokesman for ICANN said. There are now dozens of companies that sell Web domains.

VeriSign will hand over management of .org to an "appropriate non-commercial entity on behalf of the world's non-commercial organizations," ICANN said in the statement. The new registry will "receive a significant endowment" from VeriSign to offset operating expenses and make participation affordable to "all non-profit organizations, no matter how small."

Additionally, VeriSign has committed to investing at least 00 million in operational improvements in the registries it operates and will allow any ICANN-accredited registry operator to use its global zone resolution and distribution facilities, ICANN said. Sharing facilities will make managing a domain cheaper for smaller registries. ICANN picked seven new top-level domains last November.

VeriSign has also agreed to fully participate, on the same terms as all other participants, in the financial support of ICANN.

NSI was awarded a U.S. government contract in 1994, making it the sole provider for the most popular top-level domains. As the Internet and the domain name business boomed, the government determined the market should be opened and formed ICANN to oversee that process.


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