It’s starting to seem more probable that a new registry operator will be selected for .co before the current license expires in February.

In June, we blogged about a bidding process that the Colombian government had undertaken to select a new registry operator for Colombia’s ccTLD (link). At the time we thought the process might be biased in favor of an extension being granted to Neustar-owned operator CO Internet.  However, that appears not to be the case, as Neustar is heading to court to challenge the legality of the tender process.

Prior to filing suit in Colombia, Neustar notified the IT Ministry of its intent to bring the matter to an international arbitration forum, the dispute-resolution procedure stipulated by the free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States.

Next, Neustar went to the Colombian Council of State, a body analogous to a Supreme Court.  Here the company requested injunctive relief, asking that any bidding process be suspended while the matter was in arbitration.  The presiding judge rejected the request on October 30, citing among other things that a company cannot simply declare itself to be in arbitration and that both parties in the dispute must agree to submit to this process.

The judge’s decision on the injuction was published in its entirety (Word download) and gives us the best glimpse into Neustar’s arguments.  These include:

— The 2009 contract includes a clause providing for negotiations to extend the licensing agreement for another ten years, from 2020-2030.  The Colombian IT Ministry is in breach of this clause, as they refused Neustar’s requests to meet and discuss such an extension.

— By publicly announcing an open tender process, the IT ministry has harmed Neustar’s shareholders by creating the sense that the company’s license to operate .co may not continue.  These actions are in breach of the free-trade agreement between the United States and Colombia.

After the Colombian court refused to grant the injunction, Neustar’s lawyer filed an interlocutory appeal, a measure meant to nullify or amend the previous ruling.  This appeal has not yet been resolved.

Interestingly, in the intermediary period, Colombian registrar filed a motion to be included in the proceedings.  All we know about this so far is that Neustar requested on December 2 that this motion be denied.

With a contract of this magnitude, this author assumed that all the momentum lead towards renewal.  While the legal actions described in this post are still ongoing, at very least it seems that Neustar doesn’t like the way things are heading.

More on this story as it develops…



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