As former president of Network Solutions (NSI), Telage led the company's strategy to build ".com" and other domain registrations into a billion-dollar business. During the past several years, he has led negotiations with the U.S. government to dissolve NSI's exclusive contract to register domain names, open the market up to competitors, and recognize a body anointed by the White House to manage the Net's address system.
Telage, who splits his time between his home in Boston and NSI's headquarters in Herndon, Virginia, said last month's critical deal with the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) solidified these ideals and finally gave him the chance to shift out of his role at NSI.
"I had a significant set of missions to accomplish: to educate the public on this whole evolution, to help NSI become a first-rank Internet company, and to help craft an arrangement with this new nonprofit corporation," Telage told CNET News.com in an interview. "I can see the end of the tunnel now, and I feel very good about accomplishing all three of those goals."
For more than three years, the Clinton administration has been working to transfer control of the Net's infrastructure entirely away from the government and to the private sector. The negotiations have been closely watched because domain names are the means by which Net users find information, services, and products.
In the meantime, NSI's revenues have flourished, making it one of the hottest Net stocks.
Telage says he will remain on NSI's board half time and advise on strategic development deals. Before stepping down, he'll also hire his replacement and expand the company's public policy team.
Still, Telage may not step out of the complex domain name policy arena altogether. He is in the running this week for a one-year ICANN board seat. The ICANN board votes on important policies that affect NSI, including which companies can sell domain name registrations and how to settle trademark fights over names. In the future it also will decide whether to create more domains, such as ".firm."
Under its new four-year agreement with the Commerce Department, which still has to be approved by ICANN at its November meeting, NSI conceded to recognize the nonprofit's rules of operation and is expected to break its operations into two pieces--one retail and one wholesale. The deal boosted NSI's stock by as much as 17 percent when it was announced, quelling uncertainty in the market about NSI's future business.
Analysts say that although Telage will be missed by NSI in his diminished role, his decision is a sign of the company's strength.
"Don leaving is going to be a sad day for NSI," said James Pettit, an analyst at Hambrecht & Quist. "But with respect to governance and ongoing government negotiations, the lion's share of the work has been set in place, and his job is done--and quite well from my perspective."
Even without Telage in his current role, the company's management team is solid from top to bottom, Pettit added.
"He has been the true professor of the company, but operationally and going forward I don't expect the company to miss a beat," he said.
Aside from the possibility of serving on ICANN's board, Telage, a mathematician, may return to academia and plans to spend more time traveling with his wife. If elected, Telage says he wouldn't vote in issues directly involving NSI, but that his experience could help ICANN, not to mention NSI's future.
"When you're a businessman you have a very clear objective--you have to worry about your shareholder only," Telage said. "But when you're in a policy realm you have to be creditable, and your reputation is the most important thing you have.
"My election would be good for NSI--but also for all free-market business--because there would be someone on the board that understands the registration business," he added.
Telage's decision was not a surprise to other participants in the evolution of the oversight of the Net naming system, who say he was vital in putting this framework in place.
"He's been trying to find the moment to ease out of it, and having gone through this three-way agreement with the government and us, this has gone pretty much where it's going to go," said Mike Roberts, president of ICANN. "I have a sense of comfort that we have the major things settled."