By Nick Patience
Michael Rotert, one of the two experts that attended Network Solutions Inc’s technical advisory group meeting on January 28 to inspect its progress in developing a system to enable competitors to use its domain name registry system, got back to us to says that every question he and the only other attendee, Johan Hjelm was answered, though it was purely on a technical level as NSI was not there to discuss its business plans. NSI is obliged to hold such a meeting under the terms of its agreement with the US government, which was renewed in October 1998. Under that deal it has to begin opening up its business of registering names in .com, .net and .org to other companies by March 31, initially to five registrars chosen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and eventually to any business that was to have a go. The technical meeting was supposed to provide outside input and inspection, but only two of the nine people invited actually showed up. Six of them had prior engagements and one refused to sign the non-disclosure agreement. Rotert says there will be monthly meetings of the group. Rotert is currently managing director of Xlink Internet Consulting GmbH and back in 1985 was part of a team that connected the first German university to the net. Rotert, while complying with the NDA, said that he thought the technology was state of the art but the bigger issue is the political and business decision to be made about which registrars are to be chosen to become the first five to run the test software. Some would-be competitors to NSI have suggested to us that the company is planning to limit the amount of customer information gathered at the registry and instead store it at the registrar level. At first sight that would appear to be good for the new registrars – they would have more detailed customers profiles that could help them sell additional services. But storing that information at registrars has its problems. Suppose the user wants to move his or her registration to another registrar. If the information were kept at a central – probably non-profit – registry, the new registrars could pick up where the old one left off. But in this model, the information must be exchanged between the two registrars, which means competitors must cooperate with one another and store the information in roughly the same format. The UK has run its .uk registry on a fat registry-thin registrar model successfully since the inception of the Nominet non-profit registry in 1996. Leaving cooperating between fat registrars to chance could break up the current model and render the ‘whois’ database incomplete and therefore useless. At present, through whois on the InterNic web site, you can see who registers what domain and their contact details. NSI told us last year that it was planning a thin registry model because that way registrars could leverage that customer information (10/09/98). NSI’s registrar is called WorldNic, which is likely to inherit all the company’s current customers to start with. The model ICANN chooses is crucial to future competition in the marketplace, which NSI has controlled for more than five years through a government-sanctioned monopoly. Rotert says the NSI model he has seen allows a very high degree of flexibility for the registrars. But ultimately it is up to ICANN.