As the only company permitted to register the three most popular internet domain names (.com, .net and .org), Network Solutions Inc (NSI) was always going to be the among most interesting contributor to the Department of Commerce Notice of Inquiry (NoI)/Request for Comments (RFC) on the future of domain names, currently the hottest topic in internet circles. As of yesterday the department had received 389 submissions, of which 116 were form letters from PG Media Inc and its supporters, the New York company that’s suing NSI for allegedly restricting access to the internet. The DOC employee assigned to the task has apparently retired to the beach for a long weekend to plough through thepile of paper. All the cast of characters that were expected to submit did so, with the exception of IBM Corp and the American Bar Association (ABA) (NBD 8/19/97). Among the proposals in Herndon, Virginia-based NSI’s 42 pages of comments, was a call for an international regulatory body to be established whose membership should be proportionate to each country’s use of the internet. It would perform the work currently done by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). NSI believes a US government agency should step in a assume the legal responsibility during the transitions period and should eventually sponsor something called an International l Policy Advisory Group (IPAG), which would handle any disputes, which mostly arise when domain names infringe company’s trademarks. The problem is that there is no international trademark body. NSI emphasizes that it does not advocate any particular agency, but it should be one with broad experience in the administration of complex communications issues. It draws parallels between the North American Numbering Council, its sponsorships by the FCC and its handling of the allocation of 800 numbers as a model for domain names. On the other hand, the Internet Society (ISCO), the group of internet veterans founded by Vint Cerf that promotes internet standards says in its submission to the process that the 800 model is exactly what we don’t want. ISOC says it would be a tragic mistake to emulate the early days of 800-service competition by allowing monopolistic practices to control domain name registrations. NSI president and chief executive Gabe Battista was previously head of Cable & Wireless Inc and was heavily involved in the setting up of the 800 system. The inter- governmental group that NSI proposes would also be responsible for managing the regional IP registries – currently done in the US by NSI but it proposes to hand it over to a body called the American Registry for internet Numbers (ARIN) and creating African and Latin American/Caribbean registries to complement the existing European and Asia-Pacific registries. The registries would allocate IP address space to ISPs and manage the service. NSI also proposes that the agency assign a DNS manager who is not a registrar to manage the DNS root servers. Once again, ISOC differs. It is against the idea of international government entities controlling the DNS. It supports the plan of the International Ad-Hoc Committee, which is to be expected, as it has a representative on the IAHC, which is now referred to as the interim Policy Oversight Committee (iPOC). That is made up of representatives from ISOC, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), International Trademark Association (INTA) World Intellectual Property Organization and IANA, among others. The iPOC plan is the one proposing the seven new domain names and their governance by a Council of Registrars (CORE) comprising the registrars of the names; in other words, self-governance. NSI predictably enough doesn’t believe there is a need for any more generic top-level domains, but says that of they are introduced, it should be in phases. The company reluctantly supports shared databases for generic TLDs, but warns of the difficulties it experienced it has had setting up the system. America Online Inc offers a different perspective to the department’s inquiry. Being a company with a very strong brand name it proposes the introduction of a trademark TLD (tTLD), whereby companies with global reach could register things like .aol or .ibm, and thereafter not register anything else with aol.com or ibm.com for instance. It says the class of business should reflect the 42 classes of goods and services in which a company can obtain a trade or service mark. It also proposes the creation of 42 new gTLDs that mimic the 42 classes of goods and services. An example of what a Council of Registrars might look and operate like can already be found in the of the largest concentration of domain names outside the US, the UK. Under UK company law a company can be set up as limited by guarantee. A company called Nominet was established under this law to manage domain name registration in the .uk space. It has no shareholders and all its money must be left in the bank and ploughed back into operations. Nominet managing director William Black recently described the company as a natural monopoly: a monopoly is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you pull the sting from the monopoly, he says. The 380 or so Nominet members, which includes ISPs, law firms, government agencies and individuals registrars, pay Nominet an annual fee and rule changes can be effected by a 90% majority vote. Black doesn’t believe there is an industry in domain name services. Black also calls for the formalization of IANA’s authority but does not support the creation of new gTLDs.
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