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
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
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