Falling Prey to the VeriSign Beast
column was originally published
by NewsFactor Network, June 25, 2002.)
Kirk L. Kroeker
Just a few years ago, Network Solutions -- now owned by VeriSign
-- sat in a position of monopolistic power, governing the registry for the
com/net/org domain space. Consumer
horror stories emerging from around the globe seemed to be the norm rather
than the exception for those doing business with the company.
But consumers could do nothing about Network Solutions' anticonsumer business
practices because of its 1994 U.S. government contract, which gave Network
Solutions complete proprietorship over the com/net/org registry.
For many years, the company was the only option for those wanting to register
a com/net/org domain. However, about three years ago, the U.S. government --
through domain governance body
ICANN -- forced Network Solutions to open the domain space to competing
But the emergence of competing registrars did not stop Network Solutions from
continuing its anticonsumer practices. Network Solutions -- I'll call the
company VeriSign from here on because it was at about this time that VeriSign
acquired Network Solutions -- has become known for shoddy business practices,
incompetent tech support and overpriced services that capitalize on the
company's former monopoly.
Threatened with losing business to burgeoning and very popular
alternate registrars -- and there are plenty of
reports suggesting that VeriSign will soon lose its dominant market share --
VeriSign arguably has gotten worse rather than better when it comes to dealing
VeriSign is well known for
domain slamming -- a process in which a registrar sends out fake domain
renewal notices to the customers of competing registrars, deceptively urging
them to renew their domains through the slamming registrar or risk losing them
What many of these customers did not realize is that not only did they not
need to renew through VeriSign, since their own registrars could handle
renewals, but that once they sent back these fake renewal notices, VeriSign
actually would transfer their domains away from their current registrars.
The renewal deadlines on these slamming scares did not coincide with the
actual expiration dates of the domains themselves. But this detail did not
prevent many confused domain owners from paying VeriSign's completely
unnecessary US$29 renewal fee -- especially considering that, by and large, most
of these slammed domain holders had been paying far less than $29 per year
through their own registrars.
This slam tactic worked well enough to get VeriSign itself slammed -- with
several lawsuits from competing registrars. And the courts finally stepped in to
do something about it, recently
ordering VeriSign to stop.
Politics of Squatting
About two years ago, VeriSign acquired GreatDomains -- one of the largest
domain auction houses -- in order to auction off expired domains without letting
those domains lapse back into the general unregistered pool. Because VeriSign
had a complete com/net/org monopoly prior to 2000, the company had millions of
domains in its registry that it would not have had if consumers had a choice.
Instead of letting those expired domains lapse back into the general
unregistered pool -- a practice that would have been consistent with ICANN's
mandate against domain hoarding -- VeriSign listed them on the GreatDomains site
to earn auction fees.
consumer complaint, VeriSign clarified its position, stating that its policy
is to auction only those domains that customers have freshly registered and not
Regardless of whether VeriSign acted deceptively in this case, no other
registrar, save perhaps Register.com, would ever consider doing
this because of the pure anger it would generate on the part of people seeking
to register unused domains upon their expiration.
Working the Domain
Those who have worked with domain names -- modifying nameservers, executing
ownership transfers or even updating admin contacts across hundreds of domains
-- know that VeriSign defines inefficiency in a world that loves automation.
If you own a domain name registered through VeriSign and you
want to sell that domain to somebody else or put it into a different company
name, you have to execute an
If you want to do it the slow way, VeriSign takes roughly a week to complete
the modification -- plus, you'll have to pay a $15 fee. If you want to expedite
the ownership transfer, you can pay VeriSign's $199 "priority" fee and the
company will do it -- get this -- in one or two days.
This might come as news to anybody who hasn't been paying attention for the
past couple years: Most alternative registrars not only perform ownership
transfers for free, but also finish them in real-time.
Plain and Simple
Of the more than 20 million existing dot-com registrants, there are still
roughly 10 million VeriSign dot-com holders who, amazingly, have not moved their
domains to another registrar to take advantage of better services and lower
fees. If you are selling a domain registered through VeriSign, my advice is to
execute a registrar transfer so you can then quickly transfer ownership without
paying VeriSign's extortionist "priority" fee.
Given the amount of market share VeriSign has lost recently, the company has
been using behind-the-scenes
tactics to prevent registrar transfers from going through. While many
registration service providers have written letters to ICANN asking the
governance body to stop VeriSign from blocking legitimate transfers, it is
widely believed among competing registrars that the company has continued to
deny legitimate transfers in order to avoid losing more market share.
Most registrar transfers away from VeriSign, when not blocked by the company,
take roughly five to seven days to complete. Then registrants can immediately
take advantage of their new registrar's capabilities. To transfer domain
ownership if you use an OpenSRS registrar, for example, you simply create a new
registrant profile, transfer the domain into it from your main profile, and
issue the new owner a username and password.
Truly, it is as simple as that. After the registrar transfer completes --
which, on average, costs less than $15, depending on which alternative registrar
you use -- the whole ownership-transfer process takes about 60 seconds and
doesn't cost a cent.
Most people who love the Internet hate VeriSign more than open source
advocates hate Microsoft. But despite the prevalence of this
sentiment, many continue to register and renew their domains through the
company. It is my hope that more court rulings will force VeriSign to stop
abusing consumers in the interest of turning a profit.
If you own your own domain name -- in my case, I own about
200, which I happily manage through OpenSRS, just like the admins who manage the
NewsFactor Network domains -- then you probably already have at least one
VeriSign or Network Solutions horror story to tell.
Despite all these horror stories, VeriSign will control the central dot-com
registry until the end of 2007. I hope that at that point ICANN will not renew
VeriSign's contract and that a competing registrar like OpenSRS, GoDaddy or
Melbourne IT will rise to the challenge and usher in a new era of
customer-friendly, low-cost registry services.
Until then, VeriSign will likely do everything in its power to turn a profit.
And those unfamiliar with alternative domain services will continue to fall prey
to the VeriSign beast.