This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

VeriSign Retains Eminent Domain

Mar 02 2001 12:00 AM PST

The company cuts a deal ICANN that lets it keep control of the .com domain.

This was the deal: VeriSign (VRSN), which bought former domain-name monopolist Network Solutions (dossier), was to spin off its business of registering new customers if it wanted to keep control of the database for .com, .net and .org names for another four years. The May 1 deadline for the spinoff was looming.

Yesterday VeriSign announced what InternetNews ringingly called the new economy's "New Deal": VeriSign reached an agreement with the domain-name overseer ICANN, allowing it to retain the .com database indefinitely while staying in the business of registering new names. VeriSign will divest the database for .org names by the end of 2002 and the database for .net names by January 2006. The company will operate the .com registry until 2007, at which point it will enjoy a "presumption of renewal" for the registry.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story yesterday, and everybody had coverage by this morning. The Journal's story outlined the deal but offered no reaction from analysts or competitors. Today's New York Times story noted the Street's happy reaction to the deal: VeriSign's stock shot up 13 percent.

The Register's piece, which came out yesterday, was short on impartial reporting and long on over-the-top editorial opinion. The Reg's Kieren McCarthy concluded with this imaginary dialog between, presumably, the public and VeriSign: "That was a tenner we gave you. No, it wasn't, it was a fiver. It was a tenner. Well I'm only giving you change for a fiver."

The outlets used different metrics to convey VeriSign's position in the market for domain names. The Journal said the company "currently sells fewer than half" of the world's .com, .net and .org names. The Register said "about 40 percent of new registrations." The Times cleared it all up this way: "VeriSign's share of total registered domains is 50 percent; its share of new registrations 40 percent."

Both ZDNet's Interactive Week and InternetNews ran more in-depth coverage today, with reactions from VeriSign competitors and ICANN critics. Both outlets talked to Elana Broitman at No. 2 registrar (RCOM). For insider coverage, look to the independent site ICANNWatch, where University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin did a quick dissection of the terms of the proposed deal. In a clause overlooked by the traditional media, Froomkin discerned an ICANN threat that "in effect puts a gun to the U.S. government's head."

ICANN itself has posted a forum for public comments on the proposed VeriSign deal. It reads like a Slashdot discussion without the moderation. Suffice it to say that few of the comments so far posted are complimentary to either party.

VeriSign, ICANN Draw Up Domain Deal
The Industry Standard

VeriSign to Surrender Control Over 'Org,' 'Net' Web-Address Suffixes, Keeping 'Com'
Wall Street Journal
(Paid subscription required.)

VeriSign May Get Control of .com Registrations Until '07
New York Times
(Registration required.)

VeriSign Loses Control of .org Domain
The Register

VeriSign Will Keep .Com

VeriSign Stays Whole, Could Win Name Game

Verisign Inks Complex Deal With ICANN

ICANN Melbourne Meeting Topic: Proposed Revisions to VeriSign Agreements

Proposed Revisions to NSI Agreements Forum
ICANN Public Comment Forum