The price to pay for Net stability

VeriSign advisory board member Rick White says the Internet's operational security is well worth the investment.

There is lots of talk these days about Net neutrality--whether Internet infrastructure companies, such as Verizon Communications, should be able to charge service providers, such as Yahoo, for use of their networks. This is a debate that will make plenty of money for Washington lobbyists for years to come.

But there is less talk about another infrastructure issue that could also have a major effect on the Internet. This issue is whether the .com domain name will remain reliable and secure. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that manages the technical aspects of the Internet, has decided to allow the cost of .com domain names to increase by a little less than $2 over the next five years. The additional funds will allow more investment in managing and protecting the .com domain.

Some companies that sell domain names to consumers have raised a fuss, claiming that this price increase is anti-consumer. Like all of us, they'd rather see prices go down, not up. That would be nice, in theory. But in the real world, reducing .com prices could have a disastrous effect on the Internet.

Some companies that sell domain names to consumers have raised a fuss, claiming that this price increase is anti-consumer.

The financial bubble of the late 1990s may be over, but the demands on the Internet infrastructure continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Usage of .com has quadrupled over the last five years alone. At the same time, attacks on the Internet infrastructure have become increasingly sophisticated and aggressive.

For example, security giant Symantec reports that denial-of-service attacks are up 679 percent in the past year. These attacks are increasingly hindering e-commerce, and the effects are frightening. More than 10,000 Web servers were used to force an online DVD seller out of business for two weeks. And 120,000 machines were used to take down an online payment processor just last month.

Operational security on the Internet isn't free. Retail sellers of domain names understandably are driven by a desire to lower the "wholesale" cost of domain names so that they can be as profitable as possible. But they don't have to worry about making sure that the Internet stays up and running. And history suggests that consumer protection isn't their primary motivation. When they forced a reduction in wholesale prices for the .net domain last year, none of the eight major registrars passed the $10 million in savings on to their customers. It went to their bottom line.

I serve as a member of VeriSign's Internet Advisory Board, so I have visibility into the operations of the most critical elements of the Internet infrastructure. Keeping the Internet operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a pro-consumer, pro-business position.

We have come to expect and, in fact, to depend on the assurance that the Internet will be up and running whenever we need it. That sense of security is well worth the investment.

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