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Committee seeks new domain registrars

An Internet policy committee is accepting applications from parties interested in serving as registrars for domain names, but it is unclear how much power the committee has to actually implement its plan.

The interim Policy Oversight Committee (iPOC) announced today that it is accepting applications from parties interested in serving as registrars for Internet domain names. Yet it is unclear how much power the committee has to actually implement its plan to establish new registrars for domains.

The committee, formerly the Internet Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC), says its goal is to spur competition between registrars of top-level domains worldwide, citing international cooperation for its plan.

But not all have accepted iPOC's authority to assign domain names. Several Internet service providers and other companies and organizations have been critical of the committee as well as the plan. The biggest hurdle in iPOC's plan may prove to be the one company that currently has the lion's share of power regarding domain names: Network Solutions, registrar of the most popular top-level domain names such as ".com," ".net," and ".org."

That company has a government agreement to register those top-level domain names at the InterNIC. The agreement expires in April 1998. The National Science Foundation, which administers the agreement, has said that it is not planning to renew it with Network Solutions and plans to pull out altogether from the domain names business, leaving a power vacuum that several parties are rushing to fill.

Network Solutions maintains that it owns the domains database, and an NSF spokeswoman agreed. Regardless of who owns the database, the future of who will administer the domain names is still up in the air.

In a statement today, iPOC said that "currently there is one registrar, Network Solutions, for the three existing gTLDs (generic top-level domains): '.com,' '.net,' and '.org.' It is expected that those gTLDs will become assimilated into the new plan in April 1998."

Network Solutions directly counters this at its Web site when it says that, as of April 1998, "there will be no operational changes to domain name registrations in '.com,' '.org.' and '.net.' Registrations and updates in these registries will continue as they are today with the likely addition of new service offerings."

But iPOC clearly is hoping to create a competitive atmosphere where several entities share domain registration power and the millions of dollars associated with it.

Its predecessor committee, IAHC, recommended in February that seven domains should be added to the Internet addressing system. Other entities such as AlterNIC also have added domains, but for a new domain to actually work, technically there has to be widespread cooperation on the Internet.

iPOC's plan calls for entities to step forward to become registrars. "Each registrar will be entitled to register domain names in all of the new gTLDs for Internet users anywhere in the world," it said. The plan calls for price competition and for people to be able to switch back and forth among the registrars in order to find the best price and service.

To become a registrar, applicants must submit a form before October 16 to Arthur Andersen. Potential membership has its price--a steep $10,000 charge.

iPOC is run by a loose coalition of groups and organizations, including the Internet Society.