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Cerf: Names in public domain

The man credited with creating the Internet blasts Network Solutions, saying the company is abusing the public trust.

Interop LAS VEGAS, Nevada--The man credited with creating the Internet blasted Network Solutions today, saying the company is abusing the public trust by claiming that the database of Internet addresses, called domain names, is its property.

"It has always been a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation," said Vint Cerf, senior vice president of MCI Communications (MCIC), suggesting that the government's role puts the existing database in the public domain.

Network Solutions issues domain names system under an NSF contract that runs until March 1998, when the foundation will wash its hands of the responsibility. Domain names are addresses of Internet sites that contain designations such as ".com", ".gov", and ".net".

Issuing Internet domain names has been a U.S. government-sponsored monopoly, but competitors are cropping up. Likewise, foreign governments and users aren't happy with U.S. control over the names system.

Cerf weighed in on the controversy in comments at the Network+Interop 97 trade show here, where he discussed the issue during his keynote address in a public conversation with Interop founder Dan Lynch.

"There should be a facility on an international basis, funded out of commercial fees," Cerf said after the address. "Others in the world complain that the current system has been too U.S.-centric."

Cerf and MCI back a plan to give the authority for registering domain names to an international agency, but that plan has drawn fire from U.S.-based ISPs and the White House. But more than 55 international groups at the International Telecommunication Union have endorsed the plan, drafted by an International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) under the auspices of the Internet Society.

Last week, PSINet called on the ITU to slow the plan's implementation, though the big U.S. service provider did not itself oppose the plan.

The U.S. government opposes the IAHC plan because of its governmental nature. The White House fears that even a limited governmental role would open the Internet to regulation and taxation by foreign countries.

Cerf also said a Network Solutions proposal that would relegate the issuing of new Internet addresses to a central monopoly "makes no technical sense at all."

"It's plain that the Internet is important as a business infrastructure, so it has to be self-supporting," he added.

In a conversation punctuated by frequent false fire alarms, Cerf credited the domain name system as a major reason the Internet has become so large.

Cerf also predicted that telephone companies would continue to snap up companies that operate portions of the Internet backbone, as GTE did yesterday in buying service provider BBN. Last year WorldCom, another telephone company, acquired UUNet, which also operates a backbone.

"The Internet is global, so you need to have a significant backbone capability that goes beyond national borders to a global structure," noted Cerf, who in his MCI position oversees its backbone and infrastructure operations. "Not many ISPs are prepared to supply global backbone facilities."