VeriSign Inc. will keep control of the dot-com Internet address domain until 2012 and will be able to raise registration prices by 7 percent a year starting in 2007 under a legal settlement with the agency that oversees the directory system that helps computers communicate with one another.
The agreement with the International Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, announced Monday, also prevents California-based VeriSign from changing how its basic service operates without approval.
The company sparked a furor in 2003 when it changed its system so that if a Web address was mistyped or did not exist, users would be directed to a VeriSign page of sponsored advertisements.
The company said the service, called Site Finder, would expose Internet surfers to related advertising they might find useful.
But Internet engineers around the globe said the service could disrupt e-mail systems, security programs and other applications, and ICANN demanded that the company halt Site Finder pending a technical review.
VeriSign, which manages both the dot-com and dot-net domains under contracts with ICANN, initially refused, openly challenging the authority of the quasi-public body.
VeriSign eventually pulled the service down and sued ICANN in February 2004. ICANN then countersued.
Under the settlement agreement, VeriSign pledges to honor ICANN's authority. ICANN, in turn, agreed that it would give any service provider an answer on proposed changes within 90 days.
To do so, ICANN will form a standby technical committee that will be funded in part by a $1.2 million payment from VeriSign.
"This is a recognition of ICANN's stewardship of security and stability of the Internet," said Paul Twomey, head of ICANN.
The agreement comes at an opportune time for ICANN, as several countries around the world are calling for Internet oversight to shift to a more international stage, perhaps under the umbrella of the United Nations.
The U.S. government has said it will not permit such a change.
Mark McLaughlin, a VeriSign senior vice president, said the agreement offers companies a clear process for introducing new services.
The company said it has no plans to raise the "wholesale" domain registration price of $6 that it charges to register companies that sell the addresses to the public. But it also noted that costs to make the domain system more secure against cyber-attacks and to expand it internationally are on the rise.
John R. Levine, a computer consultant and member of an ICANN advisory board, said the deal effectively means registration costs will never come down.
The contracts with VeriSign and other domain managers allow the companies to renew their names automatically unless they fail to operate their systems properly.