The Internet Society has been recommended by the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers to replace VeriSign Inc as the manager of the .org top-level internet domain,writes Kevin Murphy.
ISOC, an international association that focuses on standards, public policy, education and training, and membership, beat off 10 rival bids for the recommendation, which comes at the end of an evaluation process lasting several months.
If ISOC gets final approval for its application, it will bring a much-needed revenue source to the organization, which was recently told by its auditors that it may not be able to continue as a going concern. The .org registry has 2.4 million domains in it, and VeriSign currently charges $6 per year per name at wholesale.
"ISOC is a nonprofit corporation that is operated exclusively for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes," a statement on ISOC's web site reads. "Should the bid be successful, revenues will be used to support ISOC programs, which serve the internet and internet users throughout the world."
ICANN recruited three teams to evaluate the proposals - one comprising analysts from Gartner Inc, one comprising internet academics, and one comprising participants in ICANN's non-commercial domain name holders constituency (NCDNHC).
"ISOC was the only proposal ranked in the top tier by all three evaluation teams," ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn told ComputerWire. Each team split the 11 applicants into average, below average and above average, he said.
"We are pleased that the ICANN staff and all of the evaluation teams have placed significant confidence in the Internet Society," said ISOC CEO Lynn St. Amour said. "We are privileged to have been recommended from among so many other commendable bids."
ISOC's chosen service provider is Afilias Ltd, which currently runs the new .info domain and has about one million names under management. Afilias is owned by a consortium of 18 domain name registrars, each of which has a capped shareholding.
"We are pleased that the ICANN staff and all of the evaluation teams have placed significant confidence in the Internet Society and its proposal, and look forward to the remainder of the re-delegation process," and Afilias spokesperson said.
The recommendation is subject to 10 days of applicant comment, 30 days of public comment, and then approval by the ICANN board of directors, Lynn said. The transition from VeriSign to the winning applicant is to happen before the end of the year. However, there is no guarantee that the board will rubberstamp the ICANN staff recommendation.
Indeed, while ISOC was the only application in the "above average" category in all three evaluation reports, it was not the leading application in any. Gartner's report shows a bid from Neustar Inc (.biz, .us) on top, and the NCDNHC ranked two other bids above ISOC. The academic team had Neustar and ISOC equally ranked in first place.
Rival bidders speaking on the condition of anonymity pointed to criticisms of favoritism. Over half of the ICANN board are ISOC members, though none of them hold any positions of authority. ICANN chair Vint Cerf, who had no part in any .org evaluation team, sat on the ISOC board until last summer when his term came to an end.
ICANN's Lynn dismissed such conspiracy theories as "pure fantasy". He said: "The [ICANN] board set the ground rules for the evaluation, but they had no input at all. They were not even informed of the outcome until maybe 15 minutes before the report was published."
ISOC is currently facing a cash crunch that will be alleviated by the revenue the .org registry business will bring in. In ISOC's application the organization discloses that its independent auditors raised "substantial doubts over [ISOC's] ability to continue as a going concern". At the end of last year, the organization restructured its membership structure in an effort to raise funds.
VeriSign is obliged to spin off .org under a deal reached with ICANN and the US Department of Commerce last year, under which it gets to keep its domain registrar business and gets right of renewal on its lucrative contract to run .com. As part of the deal, the successful .org applicant will get $5m startup money from VeriSign's coffers.