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Domain plan called power grab

Leaders of an Internet industry coalition want the International Ad Hoc Committee's domain-name plan stopped in its tracks.

Leaders of an Internet industry coalition want the International Ad Hoc Committee's domain-name plan stopped in its tracks.

The academics and bureaucrats behind the plan to offer more domain names are using the issue to gain control of the Internet's virtual underpinnings, according to the Association for Interactive Media (AIM), an industry group with more than 300 members, including CNET: The Computer Network.

AIM leaders have formed the Open Internet Congress to fight the plan to add seven new categories, such as ".firm" and ".web" to the Net's store of global top-level domains like ".com". However, none of the members have yet endorsed the leadership's position.

The IAHC plan was created by the Internet Society, a private trade organization, and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, a group of engineers who have historically cared for and fed the computers that run the Internet's naming and numbering systems.

AIM is not the first to criticize the volunteer group for being exclusionary and hasty in its strategy to rework the way domain names are handed out and managed. A coalition of Internet service providers and the White House have both criticized the plan in its current form.

But what started out as a squabble over the domain-name system has turned into an international battle over who will control key resources--such as domain names and the Internet Protocol numbers underlying them--and thus the future of the Internet itself.

"We need to have a massive open meeting whose sole purpose is to ask who should run the Internet and guarantee that everyone is present. It needs to be a group that is responsive to all constituencies, internationally," AIM president Andy Sernovitz said today.

The opposition has intensified after the IAHC recently dissolved itself, and privately voted in a new group known as the interim Policy Oversight Committee (iPOC).

"Our main concern is that the IAHC doesn't speak for the Internet community. Their recent move to elect themselves to run the successor organization looks like a power grab to us," Sernovitz said.

Don Heath, who chaired the IAHC and is president of the Internet Society, said he hadn't yet heard of the group's plans and couldn't comment.

AIM is holding the "Internet Constitutional Convention" on July 9 in Washington to collect public and industry opinion on what should be done about the future if domain names--a process it says the IAHC ignored.

Internet provider PSINet also came out against IAHC. The ISP said the main player in the online domain-name game was in a "mad rush" to enforce the plan, which was endorsed by about 80 groups and companies in Geneva in May, including telecommunications giant MCI.

The IAHC says its plan is designed to create competition in registering domain names, which are currently available only from a U.S. government-assisted monopoly.

Currently, Network Solutions oversees the InterNIC, which is the only registry that can assign domain names in so-called "generic" top-level domains, such as ".com", ".org", and ".net". Around 200 other registries handle geographically linked domain names, for example ".sf.ca.us" for San Francisco.

The company will lose its contract in March of 1998 because the National Science Foundation, which sponsored the InterNIC, is washing its hands of its former research network. The NSF had years earlier divested itself of the powerful backbone equipment that carries the majority of Internet traffic when it said it would discontinue funding the InterNIC in April.

The agency said it will put its money into experimental academic projects, like the new high-speed Internet 2.

The move has left a vacuum of power on the Internet and sparked a debate about who should rightfully govern the sprawling global network.

The White House's interagency task force, too, cited a lack of widespread input as one of its concerns about the plan. However, its members were more concerned that the plan, which uses two United Nations' intergovernmental groups as watchdogs and repositories, could force the U.S. government to become involved in regulating other aspects of the Internet, including content.

The White House has so far resisted pressure, mostly from Asian and Western European countries, to discuss subjects like censorship and Internet technology standards in those forums because of its opposition to government interference in the evolving Internet.

For instance, official White House policy opposes taxing Internet commerce, favors governing Internet transactions through contract law only, and encourages other national governments to to do the same.

The Clinton administration has said it would prefer a private-sector solution to both the short-term problem of adding more domain-name space and the longer-term issues of how to administer the Internet's shared resources. But the administration may find it difficult to stick to its laissez-faire policies in the face of mounting pressure to mediate or at least offer guidance in the dispute.