ICANN, the international body that manages the domain name system, appears to be on track to hand VeriSign control of the .net top-level domain registry until the middle of 2011.
ICANN said on Monday said that out of five applicants, Verisign was best suited to run the .net registry. According to one report, this could lead to cheaper .net domain names.
VeriSign is currently in charge of managing .net domain names, but its contract runs out this summer. Last year ICANN invited potential operators to apply to take over the contract, and received a total of five applications, including one from VeriSign.
Consultancy firm Telcordia were then employed to assess the various merits of these operators. Its report, published on Monday by ICANN, concluded that all five operators were capable of doing a competent job.
ICANN said on Monday that the Internet community was "now invited to review the report", but also said that "ICANN will promptly begin negotiations with the top-ranked applicant" on an agreement that would run for six years from 1 July, 2005.
But ICANN's announcement has caused confusion within the domain name sector, as Telcordia concluded that the differences between VeriSign and Sentan Registry — which achieved the best scores overall — were not statistically significant.
"The logic of Telcordia's report is that VeriSign's and Sentan Registry's proposals are equivalent," said Jonathan Robinson, business development director of NetNames, who believes ICANN should wait for the Internet community to respond to Telcordia's findings before starting negotiations with any operator.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that VeriSign has offered to reduce the amount it receives for each .net domain name to $3.50 per year, down from the $6 it currently gets.
However, this wouldn't mean that VeriSign offered the best value to domain name owners, according to one competitor. Afilias Limited, which was ranked third behind Sentan Registry and ahead of DENIC and CORE++, was proposing to charge just $3 per .net domain name per year.
"We were the most competitive," insisted Desiree Miloshevic, policy development advisor at Afilias.
Miloshevic hopes that ICANN might open negotiations with the top three ranked operators, rather than just VeriSign.
"It would be nice to be optimistic that ICANN will get into talks with the top few," Miloshevic said.
Neither ICANN nor VeriSign could be contacted at the time of writing.