VeriSign Inc., a company that already exerts significant control over how people send e-mail and find Web sites, was selected this week to run the Internet's third-most popular suffix for six more years.
The Internet's key oversight board, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said Thursday it had renewed VeriSign's contract for ".net" after reviewing recommendations from an outside panel and comments from the Internet community.
The move was largely expected after Telcordia Technologies Inc., the outside firm selected to evaluate bids to operate ".net" directories, made VeriSign its top pick in March over four other bidders. Rivals complained that the evaluation process was flawed, but Telcordia again backed VeriSign in a revised report in May.
U.S. Commerce Department approval is also required and expected. The U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet's early development, had selected ICANN in 1998 to oversee Internet addressing policies but retains veto power.
Besides running ".com" and ".net," which together comprise more than half of all domain names registered, VeriSign controls the master directory that lists all of the Internet's suffixes, meaning all traffic touches the company's computers at one point or another.
As operator of ".net," VeriSign will have the technical ability, though some question whether it has the legal authority, to make sweeping policy changes.
Nearly two years ago, VeriSign briefly redirected Web surfers who mistyped ".com" and ".net" names to VeriSign's own search engine, breaking some spam - filtering programs and other applications in the process. VeriSign suspended that program under pressure and has since sued ICANN, accusing it of impeding efforts to offer new, moneymaking services.
Even so, the new contract taking effect July 1 should generate more than $20 million annually for VeriSign, which already makes some $225 million a year managing ".com."
Owners of ".net" domain names could see lower prices when they renew, since VeriSign pledged fee reductions. VeriSign currently gets $6 annually for each ".com" and ".net" name, though it promised to settle for $4.25 in the new contract, 75 cents of which would go to ICANN.
Most Internet users, however, should not see any immediate changes.
VeriSign took over ".net" in 2000 when it bought Network Solutions Inc., which had been running the domain name since 1993.
There are about 5.8 million ".net" names. Only ".com" and Germany's ".de" are more populous domains.
By Anick Jesdanun