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Domain evolution moving forward

The nonprofit in charge of the Net's technical anatomy pushes forward plans to revamp oversight of the domain name system and to spur competition in the ".com" registration market.

The international nonprofit corporation in charge of the Net's technical anatomy today pushed forward plans to revamp oversight of the domain name system and to spur competition in the ".com" registration market.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) adopted guidelines that hopeful ".com" registrars will have to meet before competing with Network Solutions (NSI), which now has an exclusive U.S. government contract to run the lucrative registry for Net names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org."

After reviewing public comments and alternative proposals, ICANN also moved toward giving various Net constituencies a voice in its decision-making process.

"I'm very pleased that we showed that the consensus process can work," Esther Dyson, chairman of ICANN's interim board, said today in an interview.

Amid relentless scrutiny, the nonprofit has been recognized by the United States and more than 25 nations to head a process to privatize administration of the Net's addressing system and other key technical functions.

During a two-day public meeting in Singapore, ICANN's Board of Directors adopted a revised domain name registrar accreditation policy. The board also approved its conflict-of-interest and reconsideration policies to challenge board actions.

Competition guidelines
Based on its agreement with the Commerce Department, ICANN See Don Telage Newsmaker will select five competing registrars, based on the adopted criteria, to test NSI's shared-registration system for a two-month period starting at the end of April. When the test period is over, NSI is set to open its database to all ICANN-accredited registrars by summer.

ICANN said today that it will start collecting registrar applications by March 15. The revised guidelines are expected to be posted on ICANN's Web site by next week.

Based on public comment, ICANN said the policy was made more flexible for applicants in some instances.

"The responses we got said that we were being too regulatory and heavy-handed, and that was true," Dyson said.

Instead of making every applicant meet the same benchmark, Dyson said, "now we say you must either meet requirement 'X' or show us why you don't need to meet it."

For example, applicants can explain how they plan to operate with fewer employees than required by ICANN's guidelines.

Also, ICANN strengthened its data escrow provisions for registrars. In case a registrar goes out of business--which would threaten the stability of the domain names it has registered--ICANN or a third-party agent will keep an electronic copy of the registrars' databases to be used in the event the "accreditation agreement is terminated or expires without renewal."

Supporting organizations
Aside from approving registrar guidelines, ICANN also adopted a concept and structure for setting up its Domain Name Supporting Organizations (DNSO).

Per ICANN's bylaws, the supporting organizations will include, for example, representatives from registrars of top-level domains and groups that approve Internet protocols and who will make important recommendations regarding the management of the Internet.

ICANN will formulate a new proposal based on the following principles:

• The DNSO "should be a consensus-based policy advisory body within ICANN" and include a General Assembly "open to any individual or entity willing to contribute to the work of the DNSO."

• The structure should include a self-organized constituency made up of stakeholders and experts in domain name and Net protocol matters, such as: country code top-level domain (TLDs) name registries; commercial and business entities; ISPs and online providers; non-commercial domain name holders; all registrars; trademark and intellectual property interests; and individual domain name holders.

• A Names Council will be set up as a steering committee for the DNSO to make recommendations regarding the management and assignment of TLDs. Three council members should be elected by each DNSO constituency group.

• The Names Council recommendations "should be developed through a bottom-up process in which participants in the General Assembly take part" and then forwarded to the ICANN board, and include minority views.

• The Names Council "should seek nominations from the General Assembly for individuals to serve on the ICANN Board."

ICANN's next public board meeting is May 25-27, 1999, in Berlin.