A consortium of Internet service providers has changed its mind about endorsing a plan to create new top-level Net domains.
Already facing questions about its authority and opposition to its plans, the International Ad Hoc Committee is now under fire from within. The Internet Service Providers Consortium (ISP/C), which was scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding in Geneva next week, said it would not do so after all.
Representing about 60 small to medium-sized national ISPs, the consortium's 11-member board of directors voted yesterday to withdraw its endorsement of the IAHC's memorandum of understanding.
Under the memorandum, IAHC registries could begin selling names in as little as 90 days from seven new global top-level domains, including ".web" and ".firm". However, the committee of Internet volunteers will first have to surmount internal turmoil, external opposition, and government scrutiny.
The ISP/C is not the only group to recently snub the ad hoc committee's proposal. The European Commission announced earlier this month that it had concerns about the plan because there was no European representation, saying that it needed a longer consultation period before taking a stance.
The ad hoc committee's plans have also drawn fire from the world's largest and most influential domain name registrar, Network Solutions. The company operates the InterNIC under agreement with the National Science Foundation.
In addition to creating more global top-level domains, the IAHC plan proposes opening to competition Network Solutions' current monopoly on ".com", ".net", and ".org" registries. Network Solutions delivered its own competing proposal on April 1.
Network Solutions' agreement with the National Science Foundation to assign domain names expires in March 1998; the NSF said Wednesday that it will not renew its agreement. In fact, the NSF is getting out of the domain-name game altogether, it said.
The Network Solutions plan says that there should be no limits on the number of top-level domains and that Internet Protocol addresses should be managed in a cooperative manner by a legal authority.
Domain name registration is not only strategically important to the Internet, but is also apparently a lucrative business. Based on public records, it would appear that Network Solutions has collected more than $68 million in domain name fees since it began charging for registrations in 1995.
"I had voted for the IAHC proposal originally because it was the only one that had a chance of success," Charles Smith, vice president of the ISP/C, said today. He said the ISP/C hasn't officially shifted its support to Network Solutions but is surveying its members.
"I think the plan from NSI is a lot better for our membership. The IAHC proposal is complex and expensive, and the NSI plan is more oriented toward commercial interests," Smith said. "I don't want to be forced into something based on academics' conception of what the Internet can be. The Internet has changed--it's more commercial now."
"The ISP/C's decision means absolutely nothing," Don Heath, chair of the IAHC, said today when he learned about the withdrawal of support. "Our plan has been getting a steady number of supporters. In the end, it is the only plan that is in the public interest. The other plans will probably never get off the ground."
Despite the sniping, however, neither plan may prevail. As the Internet makes greater economic, social and political impact, national and international governmental bodies are taking a more active interest in issues such as domain name allocation. Their interest makes it less likely that either group's plan will survive entirely intact.
The White House last month assembled an interagency task force chaired by the Office of Management and Budget to study the domain name issue. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is also considering the domain name issue, and it is also likely to become a subject of discussion at an upcoming meeting of the so-called G7 countries, White House sources said.
Also, the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development is expected to release a report in June that sets benchmarks for domain name registration fees and emphasizes how important the domain-naming system is to identification, taxation, and other critical governmental functions.