VeriSign to lose control of .org

A non-profit organisation will take control of .org in 2002, but VeriSign retains lucrative .com and .net

VeriSign, the company that controls the database for the three big top level domain names, will lose control of the .org domain at the end of this year.

A proposal agreed with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) would see VeriSign surrender control of the .net domain in 2006, but keep control of the crucial .com domain, which accounts for 80 percent of domain registrations, until at least 2007. VeriSign acquired control of the domain name registries after buying previous incumbent Network Solutions last June.

Control of the domain name registries is a contentious issue. Network Solutions became a multi-billion dollar company after acquiring an effective monopoly on registrations in 1993 following the deal with the US government's National Science Foundation. In 1995, Network Solutions began charging $50 per domain name and today VeriSign receives a percentage of every .com, .net and .org domain registered on the Internet.

The proposed agreement is still subject to approval from the Icann board, the US Department of Commerce and VeriSign's board of directors, and if it not approved then the current arrangement will continue. Under the current arrangement, which was agreed in October 1999 with Icann and the US Department of Commerce, VeriSign had to divest ownership of either of its registry or registrar businesses in order to extend the agreement to operate the registry for .com, .net and .org for another four years beyond November 2003.

The new agreement appears to be a compromise that will enable Verisign to continue both businesses. It will continue to operate as a domain name registrar, while continuing to take a percentage of every domain name sold by other registrars. If the agreement is approved, VeriSign will lose control of the .org Registry in December 2002, at which point that registry will return to its status for use by non-profit organisations.

In a statement, VeriSign said it will ensure an orderly transition of the .org registry and will also contribute an endowment toward a new non-profit organisation that will operate the registry. "Our initial cooperative agreements with Icann have accomplished what they set out to do -- provide competition and consumer choice for domain name registration," said Stratton Sclavos, president and chief executive of VeriSign. "We believe the terms of our new proposed agreements continue to support these positive market dynamics while ensuring the long-term stability and openness of the Internet addressing system."

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