ICANN | Letter from Paul Twomey to Russell Lewis | 3 October 2003 18 September 2003
  ICANN Logo Letter from Paul Twomey to Russell Lewis
3 October 2003

3 October 2003

Via E-mail and U.S. Mail

Russell Lewis
Executive Vice President, General Manager
VeriSign Naming and Directory Services
21345 Ridgetop Circle LS2-3-2
Dulles, VA 20166-6503

Re: Deployment of SiteFinder Service

Dear Rusty:

This letter is further to the advisory posted by ICANN on 19 September 2003 regarding the changes to the operation of the .com and .net Top Level Domains announced by VeriSign on 15 September 2003, and in response to your letter of 21 September 2003. These changes involved the introduction (for the first time in the .com and .net domains) of a so-called "wildcard" mechanism that changes the expected error response for Internet traffic that would otherwise have resulted in a "no domain" response, and redirects that traffic to a VeriSign-operated webpage with links to alternative choices and to a search engine.

Because of numerous indications that these unannounced changes have had very significant impacts on a wide range of Internet users and applications, ICANN on 19 September 2003 asked VeriSign to voluntarily suspend these changes, and return to the previous behavior of .com and .net, until more information could be gathered on the impact of these changes. On 21 September 2003, VeriSign refused to honor that request. In the time since then, ICANN has had further opportunity to consider the technical and practical consequences of these changes, and to evaluate whether these unilateral actions by VeriSign were consistent with its contractual obligations to ICANN.

Based on the information currently available to us, it appears that these changes have had a substantial adverse effect on the core operation of the DNS, on the stability of the Internet, and on the relevant domains, and may have additional adverse effects in the future. These effects appear to be significant, including effects on web browsing, certain email services and applications, sequenced lookup services and a pervasive problem of incompatibility with other established protocols. In addition, the responses of various persons and entities to the changes made by VeriSign may themselves adversely affect the continued effective functioning of the Internet, the DNS and the .com and .net domains. Under these circumstances, the only prudent course of action consistent with ICANN's coordination mission is to insist that VeriSign suspend these changes pending further evaluation and study, including (but certainly not limited to) the public meeting already scheduled by ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee on 7 October in Washington, D.C.

In addition, our review of the .com and .net registry agreements between ICANN and VeriSign leads us to the conclusion that VeriSign’s unilateral and unannounced changes to the operation of the .com and .net Top Level Domains are not consistent with material provisions of both agreements. These inconsistencies include violation of the Code of Conduct and equal access provisions, failure to comply with the obligation to act as a neutral registry service provider, failure to comply with the Registry Registrar Protocol, failure to comply with domain registration provisions, and provision of an unauthorized Registry Service. These inconsistencies with VeriSign's obligations under the .com and .net registry agreements are additional reasons why the changes in question must be suspended pending further evaluation and discussion between ICANN and VeriSign.

Given these conclusions, please consider this a formal demand to return the operation of the .com and .net domains to their state before the 15 September changes, pending further technical, operational and legal evaluation. A failure to comply with this demand will require ICANN to take the steps necessary under those agreements to compel compliance with them.

Various press reports have quoted VeriSign representatives as being concerned about the processes by which changes in the operation of top-level domains are evaluated and approved by ICANN. I share those concerns. The introduction by registry operators of new products or services that do not threaten adverse effects to the Internet, the DNS or the top-level domains which they operate should not be impeded by unnecessary or prolonged processes. On the other hand, VeriSign, like other operators of top level domains, occupies a critical position of public trust, made even more important given the fact that it is the steward for the two largest generic top level domains. This means that VeriSign has both a legal and a practical obligation to be responsible in its actions in operating those top level domains.

To ensure that this obligation is carried out, there must be a timely, transparent and predictable process for the determination of the likelihood that a proposed change in the operation of a generic top-level domain under contract with ICANN will have significant adverse effects. To this end, I will be asking the GNSO to begin to create such a procedure, taking into particular account any comments submitted by other ICANN advisory bodies, liaisons, and constituencies. I will request the GNSO to make its recommendations no later than 15 January 2004.

If, during this period, further technical and operational evaluations of the changes made by VeriSign on 15 September indicate that those measures can be reinstated, or reinstated with modifications, without adverse effects, I will initiate the process to modify the .com and .net agreements to allow those changes to take place. We will use best efforts to complete these evaluations in a timely manner.

If, on the other hand, these ongoing evaluations confirm the claimed adverse effects on the Internet, the DNS or the .com and .net domains that have been publicized to date, or raise new concerns of that type, those concerns will have to be resolved prior to any reintroduction of these changes. If any such concerns cannot be resolved, and VeriSign continues to seek to implement the service, it will be necessary to make recourse to the dispute resolution provisions of the two agreements.

Given the magnitude of the issues that have been raised, and their potential impact on the security and stability of the Internet, the DNS and the .com and .net top level domains, VeriSign must suspend the changes to the .com and .net top-level domains introduced on 15 September 2003 by 6:00 PM PDT on 4 October 2003. Failure to comply with this demand by that time will leave ICANN with no choice but to seek promptly to enforce VeriSign's contractual obligations.

I look forward to VeriSign's compliance by the date specified.

Best regards,

Paul Twomey
President and CEO

Chuck Gomes - Vice President, VeriSign Naming and Directory Services
Kevin Golden, Esq. - Senior Corporate Counsel, VeriSign, Inc.

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