ICANN sets guidelines for NSI competitors

The nonprofit that runs the domain registration system releases draft accreditation guidelines for companies that will get the first shot at competing with NSI for ".com" registrations.

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Draft accreditation guidelines for the handful of companies that will get the first shot at competing with Network Solutions for ".com" registrations--including requirements for secure registries and daily data back-ups--were released today by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Network Solutions (NSI) currently runs the allocation of top-level domains for the U.S. government, but now must open its coveted ".com" registration base to select competitors. Known as ICANN, the international nonprofit will select five registrars based on the proposed criteria, who will then test the shared-registration system for a two-month period starting at the end of April.

When the test period is over, NSI will open up its database to all registrars accredited by ICANN--but a price tag will be attached.

One qualification being considered is that the registrars have at least $100,000 in liquid capital and up to $500,000 in liability insurance.

"Most companies in the world could do this--it's a pretty low threshold," Esther Dyson ICANN's interim chairwoman, said today. "We want to make this an open market for anyone who is capable. The real issue is do they have the people and the technical support? This seemed like a good first measure."

The initial application fee for test-bed registrars could be $2,500 and $1,000 for subsequent registrars. And as a condition of accreditation, the registrars could have to agree to pay ICANN up to $1 per domain name to help support ICANN, which has been recognized by the U.S. government to set up the new registrar accreditation system as well as guidelines for governance of the Net's technical underpinnings.

The companies also will have to pay NSI a yet-to-be-determined wholesale fee to make a Net address officially live on the global network. The fee is expected to account for about $20 of a domain name registration.

"It's a tiny threshold," said Richard Forman, CEO of Register.com , which has registered more than has 200,000 domain names through NSI.

"There are lot of principles here, not specifications," he added. "This criteria is focused on stability and making sure that whoever they choose gets the job done. If it doesn't work, it will be a black eye for ICANN and the U.S. government."

The draft criteria are open to public comment until March 3, at which time ICANN will vote to adopt the guidelines.

Some of the requirements are simple. For example, the registrar has to own a domain name. Beyond that, however, registrars will have to meet an array of technical and financial guidelines. Some of the proposed criteria are as follows:

 The registrar must prove it can provide secure, authenticated access to the shared ".com" registry, and that it can handle the volume of requests it expects to get.

 The company has to back up registration data daily, permit customers to change registrars without service interruption, and provide protections against fraud.

 In case a registrar goes out of business--which would threaten the stability of the domain names it has registered--ICANN or a third-party agent will keep an electronic copy of the registrars' database to be used in the event the "accreditation agreement is terminated or expires without renewal."

ICANN is seeking input about how to adequately secure the privacy of such information, as well as the privacy of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of domain name holders stored in the NSI's WHOIS database.