A few days ago ICANN quietly posted this letter from David Holtzman of Depository Inc. to ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom. The letter, dated January 27, has gone almost totally unnoticed, but it is important. It means the first warning shots have been fired in a prospective litigation duel between ARIN, which is the IP address registry for North America, and a company positioning itself to compete with ARIN in the provision of certain IP address-related services.
ARIN is refusing to allow a new company to get bulk access to its Whois records. What is at stake here is the control of IP address Whois data – or more precisely, whether ARIN owns this data and can withhold it from other organizations in order to maintain exclusive control over certain services.
ARIN does allow organizations to get bulk access to its Whois data. Its policy for distributing the data says that it is for operational or research purposes and cannot be used for “advertising, direct marketing, market research or similar purposes.” Depository Inc. submitted a Bulk Whois Data Request Form to ARIN on November 30, 2010. Two weeks later, ARIN sent a short email denying the request, claiming that Depository's attempt to mirror ARIN's Whois database was inconsistent with its acceptable use policy. On December 17, Despository Inc. replied and challenged ARIN's interpretation of its policy. ARIN replied with a longer letter saying that “creation of a duplicative registry does not facilitate internet operations…” and claimed that it “is not authorized” to provide Depository with bulk access.
Depository Inc. is now accusing ARIN of anti-competitive behavior and is asking ICANN to intervene. It wants ICANN to withhold all IP address allocations from ARIN in order to pressure it to provide the bulk access. It also copied the U.S. Commerce Department and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. It is clear from other writings from Depository's CEO that Depository Inc. views ARIN and other RIRs as “registries” analogous to domain name registries, and believe that the registry and registrar functions can be split apart in order to foster competition in “post-allocation IP address registration services.” Thus, the ARIN-Depository showdown is reminiscent of the clash between the old domain name
monopoly Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) and the companies trying to
become competing “registrars” back when domain name registration
services were a vertically integrated monopoly of NSI.
My judgment is that ARIN's refusal to supply this data is intended to discourage what it calls “duplicative” services, and that it is concern about the change in IP address industry structure, not any violation of the AUP, that motivates their denial. It is unclear yet how much of a threat, if any, Depository, Inc.'s prospective competition wold pose to ARIN's – and other RIRs – business model. But it is a discussion we will need to start having.