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Following Legal Threat, Verisign Agrees To Suspend Site Finder

by Anick Jesdanun

The Internet's key traffic cop bowed to pressure Friday and agreed to suspend a new online search service blamed for such side effects as disabling junk e-mail filters and networked printers.

The decision came hours after the main oversight body for the Internet threatened legal action against VeriSign Inc. unless it shut down its Site Finder service by Saturday evening. The company manages ".com" and ".net" addresses as well as the global network's central directory computers.

"We will accede to the request while we explore all of our options," VeriSign spokesman Tom Galvin said Friday. He said VeriSign would work with ICANN on deciding when it would pull the plug on Site Finder.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers had declared Site Finder in violation of VeriSign's contracts for running the master address lists for ".com" and ".net," two of the most popular domain name suffixes on the Internet.

Paul Twomey, ICANN's chief executive, said in a letter earlier Friday to VeriSign executive Russell Lewis that the changes "have had a substantial adverse effect ... on the stability of the Internet."

VeriSign had earlier rejected suspension requests from ICANN, but the latest carried a legal threat.

Galvin was critical of ICANN's tactics, saying it made the request "without so much of a hearing" and based its findings on "anecdotal and isolated issues."

VeriSign officials have described the service as a useful navigational tool for lost Web surfers -- though it also generates unspecified revenues from two search engine partners.

An ICANN committee had hearings planned Tuesday in Washington, D.C., to review technical issues.

Officials from the U.S. Commerce Department, which has ultimate oversight over the Internet's core infrastructure, declined comment.

ICANN, as Commerce's designee to oversee the Internet addressing system, grants contracts to run databases containing listings for various domain names. VeriSign has the contracts for ".com" and ".net."

Internet computers around the world regularly check VeriSign's lists to properly route e-mail and requests for ".com" and ".net" sites. When there is no match, VeriSign's computers previously sent back a "no such name" message. But on Sept. 15, VeriSign began diverting traffic to its search site.

Spam filters that had depended on the "no such name" message stopped working properly, as have some networked printers. Meanwhile, mobile Web services have gotten swamped with more data than the normal "no such name" response, potentially generating higher phone bills.

And business rivals are upset that VeriSign was making money off its monopoly on the ".com" and ".net" directories. At least three federal lawsuits have been filed, including one seeking class-action status.

Twomey said VeriSign "has both a legal and a practical obligation to be responsible in its actions," and he said the service violates several contractual provisions, including ones on equal access and operating unauthorized services.

VeriSign has argued that ICANN previously permitted similar services. ICANN's contract with operators of ".museum", for example, specifically allows requests for nonexistent names to reach an index of museum sites. The ".com" and ".net" contracts are silent on the issue.


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