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VeriSign says .com redirect isn't dead

The company fires back at critics of its controversial--and temporarily suspended--domain-name redirect service, saying Net regulators shouldn't have forced it to shut down.

VeriSign fired back at critics of its controversial--and temporarily suspended--domain-name redirect service, saying that Net regulators had no authority to force the company to shut it down.

The security company's domain name division, which is responsible for managing all domain names ending in .com and .net, has been fighting criticism from much of the Internet's technical old guard since introducing its new "Site Finder" service three weeks ago. Site Finder redirected all mistyped and unregistered domain names to a VeriSign search page, an action that some said interfered with spam filters and other Internet applications.

After legal threats from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), VeriSign pulled the service offline last week, reinstating the old system of error messages. But in a press conference Monday, VeriSign executives said ICANN did not have authority over the new service and that the company would fight back against the "prejudice and bias of a few folks who have a set way of doing things."

"The Internet got started by being very open and encouraging people to introduce new things," said Rusty Lewis, VeriSign's executive vice president who oversees the domain names division. "In critical infrastructure, that hasn't been the case, and that's what we're fighting for here."

The ongoing dispute is one of the clearest illustrations in recent years of the potential value of the domain name system and of the deeply conflicting philosophies about how it and other basic Net infrastructures should be controlled and regulated.

VeriSign has chafed over the past years over what it says are bureaucratic and pointless delays to domain name system enhancements, such as allowing people to use non-English characters in .com domains. The Site Finder service, which takes people who mistype an address to a search page with suggestions on what they might have meant, is just this kind of consumer-friendly enhancement, the company argued.

But critics, including ICANN, the Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Society, and a chorus of longtime Net programmers, said the redirect service is an abuse of the company's control over .com and other domains.

"ICANN's preliminary conclusion is that the changes to .com and .net...have had a substantial adverse effect on the core operation of the (domain name system), on the stability of the Internet and the .com and .net top-level domains, and may have additional adverse effects in the future," the regulatory group wrote in a letter Friday. "Further, VeriSign's actions are not consistent with its contractual obligations under the .com and .net registry agreements."

At the press conference Monday, VeriSign said it is convening a panel of Internet experts to evaluate the technical fallout from its change. Real technical problems have been far less widespread than reported, the company executives said, and they predict their data will show that the real impact was minimal.

Lewis said the company needs to make money from new services such as Site Finder, or it will not be able to protect the Net's critical infrastructure. He cited a hacker's attack on the domain name system last year, in which VeriSign servers remained relatively unscathed--largely because of the "substantial amount of capital we've had to invest," he said.

Without Site Finder, "there will be a limited amount of opportunity to create investment dollars to invest back in infrastructure," Lewis said, warning that permanently eliminating the service could have negative effects on VeriSign's health and, by extension, the broader Internet. "If we don't (innovate), the infrastructure will not improve, and the Internet will be weaker."

The redirect service was "not a registry service that would be appropriately reviewed by ICANN," Lewis added.

Several private lawsuits also have been filed against VeriSign over the issue, including a proposed class-action suit on behalf of a company that offered similar domain name redirection services as a Web browser add-on.