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Re: [ga] Verisign & Domain Slamming

News Posted July 20, 2001
By Jim Wagner
Fighting what they say is an increasing level of desperation to keep 
its customers close to the fold, registrars and Internet service 
providers (ISPs) responded Friday to VeriSign (NASDAQ:VRSN) charges 
of "domain slamming." 

An ever-growing group of ISPs and registrars are lobbying the 
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to put an 
end to what, in their opinion, looks like the largest registrar in 
the world dictating policy for an entire industry and spreading 
misinformation to keep their monopoly position. 

Domain slamming gets its name from the practice by some long-distance 
telephone companies of switching LD service from one carrier to 
another without informing or by misinforming the customer. 

Addressed to Stuart Lynn, ICANN president and chief executive 
officer, the letter asks ICANN to take all the facts into 
consideration before making any ruling on domain name transfers. 

"We find VeriSign's accusations which claims actions by ISP/IPPs such 
as ourselves constitute "domain slamming" to be offensive 
accusations, which deliberately leave out the full and true facts of 
the cases in order to justify their anti-competitive positions and 
stance, and protect their dominant position which they hold only 
because of their prior monopolistic state. We urge ICANN to reject 
any suggestion by VeriSign to enforce prohibitive policies on domain 
transfers, or whom has delegated that decision to their ISP/IPP." 

It's a rebuttal to an open letter penned earlier this week by Roger 
Cochetti, VeriSign senior vice president for policy, where he told 
Lynn that his company would immediately implement its own standards 
for authorizing the release of domain names to competitors. 

These "interim" measures, which call for the customer to notarize a 
statement authorizing the release of the domain name, are the result 
of what Cochetti calls domain slamming, the switch of a domain name 
from one registrar to the other without the customer's knowledge. 

William Walsh, sponsor of the rebuttal letter sent to ICANN and owner 
of registrar company Userfriendly.com, said the actions by himself 
and other ISPs/registrars were taken to address the many inaccuracies 
and "blatant" falsehoods in Cochetti's original letter. 

He paints a nightmare picture of the delays and difficulties 
experienced when he recently tried to switch a customer's domain from 
VeriSign-owned registrar Network Solutions Inc., to Tucows, a 
Canadian-based registrar. 

Under VeriSign's new anti-slamming measures, customers have five days 
to complete the authorization process from VeriSign to the gaining 
registrar, or the transfer is blocked. After getting the request from 
the gaining registrar, Walsh said, VeriSign is delaying the process 
by sending the authorization letter to the customer two or three days 
after the request, many times on a Friday afternoon. 

That's hardly enough time, he said, to respond and make it within the 
five-day deadline, especially if Saturday and Sunday are included in 
the deadline. And if they don't make the deadline, the customer and 
ISP/registrar are forced to begin the process anew. 

That's costly in the case of many owners who are switching their 
domain names to a new registrar at the end of their domain name 
leasing agreement with VeriSign. Many times, their domain expires 
while trying to get it switched over to a new registrar, forcing them 
to pay the $35 initial domain registration fee VeriSign charges to 
reinstate the domain, often to the detriment of the gaining 

"VeriSign's practices are causing legitimate transfer requests to be 
blocked or take two to three attempts to be processed," Walsh 
said. "When they are questioned about it, VeriSign's staff blames the 
other registrar for the problems. Registrants are then under the 
mistaken impression that it's the fault of the registrar they were 
trying to transfer to." 

The impact of the new policy is affecting registrars everywhere. 
Tucows reports that in the first week of June, 70 percent of its 
customer transfer requests were denied. Other registrars report 
similar numbers, and it looks like it will only get worse unless 
steps are taken to remedy the situation. 

VeriSign critics also point to the flawed assumptions Cochetti made 
in his letter to ICANN, which says that most domain customers 
register a domain on their own. 

Ross Rader, director of research and innovation at Tucows, says that 
VeriSign officials are only telling part of the story when it comes 
to customers and their domain names. 

VeriSign runs under the assumption that domain registration is run 
under a retail model, he said, where people go to the site and 
register the domain name there. But that's only part of it: the 
majority of domain name registrations come through service providers, 
seen by many as the logical source for all Internet-related services. 

Doug Wolford, VeriSign mass markets general manager, said the 
relationship they're worried about is between themselves and the 
consumer, not with the compeition. 

"The legal relationship in the domain business is always between the 
registrant and the registrar, so if you register a domain name from 
us and someone wants to change that domain to another registrar, 
effectively what they are doing is saying, 'We want to change the 
legal relationship between you and VeriSign," Wolford said. "It's our 
belief, and it's supported by contracts with ICANN and others, that 
we should ask you before that contract is broken. There is, even 
among our community, a fairly limited understanding of the importance 
of that legal relationship." 

Rader and others think that mindset is narrow thinking, especially 
when the bulk of domain name registrations are handled by the ISP. 

"I do not go to AT&T to buy a T-1," Rader said. "I go to my local ISP 
and they get the bandwidth, they get the IP numbers from ARIN (the 
American Registry for Internet Numbers) for us, they set up my domain 
names. We trust their judgment, and if we didn't we'd go to another 

"That's the way people buy infrastructure," Rader continued. "It's 
ridiculous to assume that everybody in the universe is going to buy a 
domain retail because of some perceived customer service benefit or 
pricing benefit. A significant number of people just don't care." 

VeriSign points to a series of unpublished surveys conducted last 
year that show what they say is an alarming number of people who are 
victims of domain slamming. According to Cochetti, the surveys show 
that as many as one in three customers were switched to a new 
registrar without their knowledge, many times from duplicitous 

"While some de minimis level of customer confusion is to be expected 
(in the transfer)," Cochetti said in his letter, "we were astonished 
at the extent of the difference between what many registrars asserted 
customers had expressly authorized, and what the customers actually 
disclosed to us themselves. 

Rader laughs off assertions of VeriSign worries, saying results in 
the VeriSign-sponsored surveys can hardly be considered impartial. 

"They've been talking about this magical report for months now, but 
despite repeated requests, they've never publicized it, so we don't 
know what methodology was or the questions they asked," Rader 
said. "They're parading this thing around like its some conclusive 
document that's proving all sorts of things. Essentially it's 
allowing them to speak from an unsupported position. Anything based 
on the survey, as far as I'm concerned, is spurious and 

Wolford said the survey results are the only thing competitors will 
see, unless ICANN decides to release the results in the future. 
Officials at the governing body were given the detailed reports last 

"I think the appropriate party to share (the surveys with) is ICANN," 
Wolford said. "ICANN is the standards-setting body in the industry 
and we want them to be the ones to lead the community to a decision 
that's in the interest of consumers. It's not something that any 
company should be doing unilaterally, rather its something ICANN can 
take the lead in. We believe that sharing the information with ICANN 
is the best way of getting that process tightened up. 

ICANN officials were unavailable for comment and haven't gotten back 
to VeriSign to talk about Cochetti's letter. Wolford expects that is 
because ICANN will practice due diligence in this matter. 

"I think ICANN is viewing this as a matter that requires serious 
consideration of the whole community," Wolford said. "Our survey was 
conducted very rigorously by neutral third parties, based on reports 
from our customers. I think there is definitely a role ICANN can play 
here in setting a standard procedure that everyone can follow and 
have confidence in. What we're concerned about is the trust people 
have in the registrar community, which could be eroded by these 
slamming events."

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