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Bill challenges ICANN, VeriSign

Two congressmen introduce a bill to block a plan from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that would give control of all expiring .com and .net domains to VeriSign.

Two congressmen introduced a bill Thursday that would block an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers plan to give control of all expiring domains ending in .com and .net to VeriSign.

The bill also calls for a federal investigation of ICANN's business practices.

A pair of Washington state politicians, on behalf of a collection of companies that register domain names, said they intend to block a controversial procedure that would establish VeriSign as a central place to buy all expiring .com and .net domains. The legislation also considers transforming ICANN into a federal advisory committee, effectively ending its quasi-independent status as a separate organization that has a contract with the U.S. government.

Last year, ICANN approved a plan that would, in effect, give a sizable boost to VeriSign's bottom line by shifting revenue that is currently shared by the scores of accredited registrars. The registrars bitterly opposed the idea--called the Wait-Listing Service--but were rebuffed by the ICANN board.

In response, some irked registrars created the Domain Justice Coalition and turned to Congress for help. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Brian Baird and Jay Inslee, both Washington state Democrats, would place ICANN's decision on hold and order the U.S. General Accounting Office to investigate ICANN's business practices.

"The bill is necessary because ICANN has failed to follow its own policies," said Christine Jones, general counsel for registrar Go Daddy Software. "We're hoping that a study by the General Accounting Office over whether ICANN is effective in following its own rules will force ICANN to do what it's supposed to do, follow the consensus (among registrars), and oppose the Wait-Listing Service."

Called the Fair, Transparent, and Competitive Internet Naming Act of 2003, the bill requires the U.S. General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of the U.S. Congress, to "conduct a study regarding the business practices, procedures, accountability and administration" of ICANN. One of ICANN's own board members sued the group for access to its records, which led to a state judge last year ordering ICANN to open its books.

An ICANN spokeswoman said the wait-list change would not become effective until after an October board meeting in Carthage, Tunisia.

"We welcome any kind of interest in ICANN because we are a transparent and accountable organization," ICANN spokeswoman Mary Hewitt said. "Whether it's the U.S. government or Belgium that wants to look at us, we welcome the interest. We post everything on our Web site."