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Net namer adds its plan

Network Solutions, the only official registry of global top-level domain names, offers its own plan for expanding the Net's domain system.

After keeping mum on two competing plans for months, Network Solutions earlier this week surprised the Net community by adding its own proposal for privatizing and expanding the Net's domain system.

The company, which runs the only official registry for so-called global top-level domains, including ".com", ".net", and ".org", presented its paper at the Federal Networking Council Advisory Committee's biannual meeting on Monday. The advisory board is a panel made up mostly of industry representatives who advise the National Science Foundation's Federal Networking Council. The FNC oversees Internet policy for the National Science Foundation, which granted Network Solutions the exclusive InterNIC agreement until March 1998.

The Network Solutions plan, which combines features of the other two plans with its own, has received mixed reviews from Net watchers who seem baffled by the flurry of plans, papers, suits, and position statements that have whirled around the issue in the last few months.

"The committee listened to [Network Solutions'] and other presentations and is developing a recommendation that will be presented to the Federal Networking Council," said Stu Loken, a member of FNC advisory committee. "I can not comment on the recommendation until it is made." Loken said the committee hasn't set a deadline, but is trying to move quickly.

The advisory committee last year recommended that the FNC hand over domain naming to an appropriate regulatory agency within the government, which many took to mean the Federal Communications Commission.

The chairman of the front-running competing plan decried Network Solution's paper as a thinly-disguised ploy to make sure it hangs onto its lucrative monopoly. Network Solutions should have brought in about $120 million dollars so far from registered 1.2 million domains, though many registrants have failed to pay.

"It's self-serving, and if it were actually followed, would create absolute chaos in the registration of domain names," International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) chairman Don Heath responded to the plan by email yesterday. "I can't imagine such a plan ever being implemented."

Members of the international IAHC signed the memorandum of understanding to create up to 28 independent naming registries on April 8. They will compete directly with the Herndon, Virginia-based Network Solutions.

The new IAHC registries could begin selling names in as little as 90 days for seven new global top-level domains, including ".web" and ".firm." The final plan lowers some of the previously proposed monetary barriers to becoming a registrar. It also opens up Network Solutions' ".com", ".net", and ".org" registries to competition after the company's agreement expires in 1998.

Network Solutions' white paper calls the IAHC plan "bureaucratic," "narrow," and "unworkable."

"The IAHC proposal cannot be supported as proposed," the paper states. "The IAHC, which holds no legal authority, has proposed a plan which threatens the speed and stability of Internet registration, and offers a complex new bureaucracy without introducing effective competition. The IAHC proposal is based in regulation and control. Our industry-driven plan is based in free market competition."

The Network Solutions plan calls for the following action:

* Limited regulation of domain name registration that is driven by marketplace and commercial interests. Customer demand creates a built-in incentive to generate improvements in service, the paper states.

* There should be no limits on the number of top-level domain, and the names themselves, such as ".com," should not be pre-decided or limited by a committee like the IAHC. Instead, parties who are allowed to be top-level-domain registrars would be able to propose names on a first-come, first-serve basis, with a limit of three per registrar.

* Requirements to administer domain name registration should be limited. Those who wish to compete should be able to present their qualifications, become a registrar, and allow the market, not a lottery, to select capable service providers.

* Internet Protocal (IP) addresses should be managed in a cooperative manner by a legal authority. It is no longer appropriate for these functions to be performed by volunteers like the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

In addition the white paper calls for some branch of the U.S. government to assume interim authority for a two-year period, after which authority would transfer from IANA to another, undetermined, government agency.

The government is already working on its position on the doling out of domain names and the 12-digit Internet numbers behind them. The White House recently convened an interagency task force to examine the issues, and is already floating the idea of public hearings.

Members are from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Office of Management and Budget.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is also considering the domain name issue. The OECD will reportedly 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.

The Commercial Internet eXchange Association, whose many members include Compuserve and AT&T, stated earlier this year that it will not back the IAHC plan.

"We acknowledge the intentions of the IAHC to support the transition from a U.S. government-supported administrative infrastructure to one administered by and supported by the private sector," it stated. "We respectfully submit, however, that the draft proposal submitted by the IAHC in its present form does not provide a long-term, scaleable solution within a global and legal framework."

The IAHC, however, points out that the committee's plan has garnered some high-profile industry support, including that of MCI, which owns a substantial chunk of the Internet infrastructure, and UUNET.

Meanwhile, several independent name registries are already selling domain names without the blessing of the IAHC, Network Solutions, or the National Science Foundation. Access to most of these names must be obtained through the Extended Domain Name System, or eDNS, a mirror of the Internet's existing accepted official domain naming system.