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Verisign, Altanovo and ICANN trade barbs over .web

More ill-will exposed in newly-published letters.

Picture of a laptop computer, a cup of coffee and a plant on a desk with the word .web in white letters on a green background.

This week, ICANN published a series of letters related to the fight for .web.

The quick backstory: a company called Nu Dot Co won the auction to run the .web top level domain for $135 million. Verisign (NASDAQ: VRSN) struck a deal with Nu Dot Co ahead of the auction in which it would bankroll the auction and then Nu Dot Co would assign the name to Verisign. Afilias (now Altanovo Domains) was the runner-up bidder and complained about the deal. It ultimately filed for Independent Review. The review panel kicked the issue back to ICANN by informing it that it needs to determine whether Nu Dot Co’s deal with Verisign violated the new TLD rules.

That’s where the issue sits today: ICANN needs to determine if the deal was within the rules or not. The Board passed a resolution on the matter at a January meeting and is collecting data to make a determination.

On February 11, Altanovo sent a letter to ICANN and its board complaining about the resolution’s wording and the published rationale. It sent a second letter on February 18 complaining about language regarding .web in a Verisign SEC filing. ICANN’s outside counsel, Jones Day, fired back a note (not published) to Altanovo’s counsel claiming it was violating Rule 4.2 of the Model Rules for Professional Conduct by communicating directly with ICANN rather than with its counsel. Altanovo’s counsel said that was hogwash and that it only resorted to sending letters directly to ICANN because Jones Day hadn’t responded to its earlier letters. Then counsel for Nu Dot Co and Verisign sent a letter claiming that Altanovo was trying to sway the community and ICANN’s board with its public letters and demanded the letters not be published because they contained confidential information. Jones Day sent a letter disputing Altanovo’s assertions and saying it would publish the letters with redactions.

It’s like a spat on an elementary playground where everyone takes each others’ words out of context, yet in this case, they’re using much bigger words.

Here’s one example from Altanovo’s first letter:

We observe that in a recent earnings call, Verisign expressed no doubt as to how ICANN will resolve this matter. Verisign—again, a non-applicant for .WEB—told the investing public:

“With the rejection of Afilias’ application and the reaffirmation of the panel’s final decision, those roadblocks are now out of the way, and ICANN looks to be moving forward with making the decision on the delegation of .web, and we will be monitoring their process. As we have said before, we continue to look forward to becoming the .web registry operator and establishing [it] alongside .com and .net as an additional operation for businesses and individual end users worldwide.”

These comments by Verisign’s CEO and Chairman Jim Bidzos suggest to us that he either has not read the IRP Panel’s Final Decision, or that he has information that we do not. We
also observe that while Verisign may be in a position to “monitor[ ]” ICANN’s “process,” Altanovo is not. We have written to ICANN’s counsel, specifically to ask when and how
the Board will be carrying out the process of making its “first instance” pronouncement, pursuant to the Final Decision. We have had no response.

Altanovo insinuates that Verisign has some sort of inside track to monitor the process. But in the same conference call, Verisign said that it is monitoring through publicly available information and that analysts can monitor it the same way it does.

Altanovo is not the only party choosing words selectively as all sides trade barbs. They all have some valid points, but it’s difficult to find them when they’re buried underneath stuff that makes you roll your eyes.

If one thing is sure, it’s that we won’t see .web for a while. If ICANN allocates the domain to Nu Dot Co (and thus Verisign), Altanovo has threatened further legal action.

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Author: Andrew Allemann

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