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Registrar ups ante in VeriSign battle

Go Daddy says it will pay up to $100,000 of the legal bills that ICANN may run up through defending a lawsuit filed last week by VeriSign.

Domain name registrar Go Daddy for months has criticized VeriSign's currently suspended "Site Finder" service, which seized control of nonexistent .com and .net domains.

Now Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Go Daddy is putting its corporate checking account where its mouth is. Go Daddy said Tuesday that it will pay up to $100,000 of the legal bills that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) may run up through defending a lawsuit filed last week by VeriSign.

"Ideally, ICANN will submit its legal bills to us, and we'll pay them, up to $100,000," said Go Daddy President Bob Parsons. "I don't think the $100,000 will handle it. I'm pretty sure that we'll blow through the entire amount."

Last week, VeriSign sued ICANN in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging it was unlawfully blocked from adding new features to the .com and .net master database that it maintains under a contract with ICANN and the U.S. government. Many of those proposed additions--such as Site Finder and a "Wait Listing Service"--have riled competitors Go Daddy and other domain name registrars, which have formed a coalition to fire back at VeriSign.

"They would like to be an unchecked monopoly," Parsons said. "We believe if they win at that, then everybody loses. Except, of course, VeriSign."

VeriSign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The donation represents an ironic twist--and a kind of lesser-of-two-evils calculation by Go Daddy, which was one of the registrars that sued ICANN last year to block the Wait Listing Service. A federal judge dismissed the case in December.

While the donation represents a small fraction of ICANN's $6 million budget for its 2003 fiscal year, it symbolizes the frustration that many registrars seem to feel about VeriSign, a huge potential rival, and the unease about the changes the lawsuit could bring about.

A wildcard is the growing interest of the United Nations in regulating the Internet. Last week, its International Telecommunication Union (ITU) convened a workshop in Geneva where officials made what amounted to a pitch for the group to supplant ICANN.

One possibility is that the lawsuit, which accuses ICANN of antitrust violations, could destabilize the current Internet governance system to the point that the United Nations gets more closely involved. "If VeriSign gets what they want, ICANN becomes irrelevant and you don't have anyone watching the registry operator," said Christine Jones, general counsel for Go Daddy. "The more important player is the U.N. and the ITU, which is trying to gain control."

VeriSign, however, doesn't seem to want that outcome either. A memo from VeriSign Vice President Rusty Lewis sent to employees last week said, "We believe a credible ICANN is the best thing for the Internet. We are in full support of a global framework for the coordination of the domain name system. This lawsuit is about getting clarity around ICANN."