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Key Internet Domain Up for Grabs

Critics of VeriSign, including some of the company's likely competitors for the .net contract, accuse the company of fear mongering in an attempt to bully ICANN.

"I'm a little suspicious of people who are hyperventilating about it, because I think they are playing into a public relations campaign that VeriSign is waging to try to prevent change," said Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University and the author of "Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace."

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Ram Mohan, chief technical officer of Afilias, a Dublin-based Internet addressing firm that is considering submitting a bid to operate .net, said his company's takeover of .org from VeriSign in 2003 proves that such transitions can be made smoothly. Afilias manages the technical side of .org for Public Interest Registry, the Reston, Va.-based nonprofit group that won the right to manage the domain.

"There's no question that .net helps underpin the Internet. The one [assertion] that strikes me as incongruous is that if you touch .net, everything will fall apart," Mohan said.

The .net domain was originally intended to serve the techies who operate Web sites, e-mail networks and other online communications hubs. Now it often serves as a second-choice domain for people who cannot get the .com address they want.

Still, many Internet service providers, e-commerce firms and Web site operators base their online operations in .net. As a result, e-commerce sites like Walmart.com and Amazon.com as well as government sites for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Security Agency rely on .net "name servers." If the servers go down, so do the Web sites, even if they end in ".com or .gov."

That is not a good reason to keep .net under VeriSign's control, said Paul Vixie, president of the Internet Systems Consortium, a Redwood City, Calif.-based firm that plays a central role in Internet communications by publishing and maintaining one of the most widely used software programs for domain servers.

"I agree it's a very important resource, but that doesn't mean we can't move it. If anything, I'd argue that means we should move it so that we don't have all of our eggs in one basket," Vixie said.

VeriSign used to be the only wholesaler and retailer of Internet addresses ending in .com, .net and .org. In 1998, ICANN was created to break up the company's Internet addressing monopoly, formed under the auspices of the U.S. government. Since then, ICANN has approved the creation of several new Internet domains including .biz and .info, and has accredited more than 100 Internet address retailers.

VeriSign remains, however, the dominant player in the industry because it is still the sole registry of .com and .net addresses.

This has spawned a tense relationship with ICANN. Earlier this year, VeriSign sued ICANN in a California federal court seeking to curtail the group's powers. A judge dismissed that case, but VeriSign has re-filed in California state court.

The company's executives fear that focusing the decision on non-technical criteria could undercut ICANN's ability to recruit the safest and most stable .net operator, Galvin said.

ICANN General Counsel John Jeffrey said the tension will not color the .net decision. Jeffery added that ICANN will appoint a third party, probably a yet-to-be-named global accounting firm, to handle the evaluation process. VeriSign officials applauded that plan.


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