Iberia Parish claims its website domain being held ‘hostage’

Iberia Parish Government wants its website back.

The parish claims in a federal lawsuit filed last week that its web domain names are being “held hostage for money” by former contractor Main Street Internet Service.

The New Iberia company handled website issues for Iberia Parish Government for several years but sent a proposal on June 19 offering to sell Iberia Parish its main website domain name and related domain names for $10,000, according to the lawsuit.

The proposal went on to state that the “offer is only good for a short time, as Main Street Internet Service will be closing their doors to businesses after 18 years of business and once closed the price will go up,” according to a copy of the proposal attached to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit labels the proposal as an “extortionate demand” and a “threat to disrupt” the operations of Parish Government.

At stake is not only control of the parish’s main Web portal — www.iberiaparish government.com — but also www.iberiagov.net, the domain name used for parish email addresses.

“The most immediate impact would be the interruption of email service for every Iberia Parish official and employee,” said attorney Ryan Goudelocke, who is handling the case for Iberia Parish Government.

The parish’s main website is a useful access point for parish residents, including contact information for various parish officials and departments, updates on parish projects, emergency alerts, maps, and codes and regulations.

Goudelocke said some of that information, such as storm alerts and where to get sandbags, can be critical in the midst of hurricane season.

“We are talking about public health and safety here,” he said.

Neither Main Street Internet Service nor the manager listed in the lawsuit, Matthew J. Comeaux, could be reached for comment.

The number listed for the company was not in service Monday.

A federal judge has granted a temporary order mandating the Iberia Parish websites stay active, and a court hearing on the issue is set for July 28.

According to the lawsuit, the parish has been unable to gain control of its website domains because Comeaux used his name rather than a parish government contact when registering the website domain names with the various companies and groups that work together to track and keep records of website names.

Parish officials were aware of a potential problem as far back as 2008, when Iberia Parish Information Technology Director Michael Prejean first asked Comeaux to list the parish government as the registrant for the website domain names, according to the lawsuit.

It was a minor issue until the parish learned that Comeaux and Main Street Internet Service were going out of business, leaving the parish with few options to gain control of the site as long as the domain was still registered in Comeaux’s name, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, violation of cybersquatting laws and trademark infringement.

Goudelocke said his research has not uncovered any similar cases involving a government website, but there has been a litany of cybersquatting cases involving private companies.

“We don’t see Iberia Parish Government as being any different,” he said.