ICANN-VeriSign Deal Sparks Congressional Hearing - What Happens Next?
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The proposed settlement is not yet in effect, of course. It awaits approval by the Department of Commerce, which is what prompted the Congressional hearing in the first place. Given that ICANN and VeriSign have both been presenting this deal as the last chance to settle the litigation between them, it is not clear what would happen if the Department of Commerce does not approve the settlement.
Congress itself cannot block the deal; it doesn’t have the authority. And while the Department of Commerce has plenty of information on previous ICANN-VeriSign agreements, there doesn’t seem to be anything on its web site to indicate whether it will approve or block the deal. John Kneuer, an acting assistant secretary with the Commerce Department, gave mixed signals to the press recently. He acknowledged that “the resolution of long-standing and costly litigation would a positive step,” but added that his department is “in consultation” with the antitrust division of the Department of Justice.
The current contract between ICANN and VeriSign expires in November of 2007. That’s almost a year and a half away, which should be plenty of time to renegotiate the deal. A number of observers have argued that the proposed settlement serves only ICANN and VeriSign, to the detriment of those most dependent on the Internet; that’s reason enough to take a very hard look indeed.
The Coalition for ICANN Transparency (CFIT), a not-for-profit group that sprang up in the wake of the proposed settlement, has been lobbying hard to make everyone aware of the problems with the deal. Just before the Congressional hearing, the group issued a press release that implied the deal was so bad, perhaps VeriSign should no longer hold the monopoly on the registry. “It is disingenuous, too, to suggest that only VeriSign is capable of managing the .com registry. Other proven and capable companies like AT&T, NeuStart and IBM would certainly be up to the task,” said John Berard, CFIT spokesperson.
Would VeriSign and ICANN change their tune if it looked like VeriSign was going to lose its monopoly on the .com registry? There is no telling. But if you get enough people unhappy with business as usual and the status quo, anything could happen.
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