Verisign Angling for No-Bid Contract Renewal

I’ve updated my disclosure statement, which now includes all sources of income through the end of 2009. The only significant change is the addition of an honorarium I received from a firm called “Qualitative Insights” for participating last month in a half-hour interview about my views on “Internet infrastructure.” Although they wouldn’t tell me who the client was, it became clear from the questions being asked that that the client was VeriSign. Most of the questions concerned the upcoming renewal of Verisign’s contract to administer the .com and .net domains.

2375834997_ed6f5e9c24I haven’t yet seen any significant coverage of this issue, but coverage of the last contract renewal suggests that the current contract runs until 2012. ICANN is apparently in the habit of awarding Verisign no-bid contracts on the grounds that no other firm would have the capacity to take over the domain. Verisign, understandably enough, would like to preserve this arrangement.

The interview resembled a one-person focus group, with the interviewer first asking for my general impressions of various Internet companies, and then reading me various potential Verisign talking points and soliciting my feedback. At one point she even read me a hypothetical statement from Verisign’s CEO and asked me to react to it. I can see how this sort of preparation could be valuable as Verisign prepares its PR strategy. While I’m not personally influential enough to be worth paying a ton of attention to, I probably am representative of a segment of online opinion, and getting my reactions in private probably helps them craft their talking points to anticipate the objections of people like me.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t find Verisign’s talking points very convincing. The interviewer ran through out a variety of reasons for avoiding a competitive bid, but none of them struck me as especially persuasive. If it’s true that no other firm is qualified to run the .com domain, then Verisign will likely be able to put together the strongest bid. And in any event, the threat of losing a competitive bid strengthens ICANN’s hand in negotiations, which will ultimately mean lower fees for consumers who register .com and .net domains.

I hope the tech blogosphere pays more attention to this issue in the coming months. I’m sure Verisign would love nothing more than a low-key renewal process that allows Verisign to continue jacking up fees for domain registrations. Thorough coverage of the issue will strengthen ICANN’s hand (and/or stiffen its spine) in negotiations, which will save the rest of us millions of dollars when we renew our domains.

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