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Domain plan deadline looms

The comment period on the Commerce Department's plan to end the U.S. government's rule over the domain name system is over, and now government officials will weigh the issues.

The public comment period on the Commerce Department's controversial plan to end government rule over the domain name system is over, and now it falls into the hands of others to weigh the issues.

Many comments were long and tackled the complex issues raised in the DOC's "green paper". Others were short and to the point.

Hundreds of individuals, businesses, and public agencies have offering opinions on the controversial plan. Responses ranged from the serious to the sublime, from the ridiculous to the meticulous.

They raised tough questions about how the domain name system will be managed and who will manage it, such as how copyright disputes will be resolved and international vs. U.S. governance over the system.

The domain name issue Dueling domains speaks to the entire Net community--the overseers of the domain name system will hold some of the most powerful reins of power on the Internet, and they stand to make millions of dollars in the process.

Several major players waited until the last moment to file their papers.

Yesterday, Network Solutions, the company that now holds the U.S. government contract to administer the most popular top-level domain names (including ".com," ".net," and ".org."), and rival Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), filed comments. So did other outspoken interested parties, such as Jay Fenello, president of alternative registry Iperdome.

All three issued comments intended to sway the government to their respective sides. For instance, both Iperdome and Network Solutions largely supported the plan, which, as written, would support their proposals. But members of CORE, whose business plan would be scuttled by the domain name proposal, called it a bad plan and advocated dropping it.

The domain name system underlies the entire Internet infrastructure, allowing users to reach the Web sites and email addresses they want. The fight over control over it stretches beyond the United States, with the European Commission weighing in with concerns that the Commerce Department's green paper is too U.S.-centric.

Government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission also weighed in on the issue. Perhaps not surprisingly, the FTC backs the plan.

The plan addresses myriad issues--from who will register individual names to who will be able to run new top-level domains. Many have complained about the current setup and some have sued, alleging that Network Solutions holds a monopoly because it has the exclusive government contract to run and register the most popular top-level domain names. The government has put a halt on allowing any more top-level domain names to be added to the system until the plan is adopted, with the exception of country codes.

From here, the Commerce Department has no set deadline to evaluate the hundreds of comments.

"We'll be reviewing the comments and

CNET Radio speaks with senior Commerce Department adviser Becky Burr
deciding whether we're going to the plan," said Brian Kahin, a senior policy analyst for the White House and chairman of the interagency task force on domain names. "We haven't promised a particular date."

However long it does take, the government officials, led by Clinton Internet policy adviser Ira Magaziner, will have plenty to consider.

However, when they released the draft proposal January 30, the officials knew it would be controversial.

For instance, many criticized the plan for its failure to adequately address trademark disputes over domain names. Some said preference should not be given to powerful trademark owners, who registered their names before the advent of the Net.

"Often the larger more well-financed companies can bully a smaller company by legal threats into giving up a rightfully owned domain name," wrote one commenter, Matti Siltanen.

Others offered solutions.

"I would like to suggest a domain suffix for the trademarked names. I think this should be something like: 'companyname.tmk,'" wrote an AOL user.

Many suggested that the future domain name system should allow for the segregation of pornographic sites by creating the domains ".xxx," ".adu," or ".sex."

"This would also make it easier for browsers to block out these sites so our children, who also have rights, don't have to view the ever-increasing trash on the Internet," wrote Netizen Ted Eckerson. "Once the domains are established, a time period could be invoked for this type of material to be moved or the offending site would be fined."

But many of the players--especially those with vested interests in the outcome of the plan--submitted detailed comments that got into the nitty-gritty of the plan.

It came as no surprise that CORE,which stands to be hurt by the proposal, strongly opposes it.

CORE says the U.S. government should not be involved at all in the arena of Internet domain names. Instead, the government should simply "step aside quietly and allow the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority [IANA] to become a private, nonprofit U.S. corporation managing the DNS as it has for more than 15 years," Alan Hanson, chairman of the executive committee of CORE, said in a statement.

Although it is true that the IANA manages the domain name system, it does so under the authority of the U.S. government.

Magaziner has said on a number of occasions that he wants the transition of the domain name system to the private sector to be smooth. The fear is that if a solid plan is not in place, the Internet will be plunged into chaos.

Opponents of the powerful group of companies that compose CORE worry that without the government overseeing the transition, the power will simply be transferred to CORE, locking out other players.

"The [CORE plan] puts a very small group of stakeholders in charge of these decisions," Iperdome's Fenello said in his position paper. " It creates a highly controlled, bureaucratically administered name space, instead of a free market approach that has fueled much of the Internet's worldwide growth."

In turn, CORE makes similar accusations, saying the Commerce Department proposal would kill competition by allowing mini-monopolies of domain name registrars.

The proposal, as outlined in the green paper, would cut off CORE's plans to add seven new top-level domain names to the ones already in existence and to share a domain name registry.

Instead, the plan supports allowing any company that can qualify to run a top-level domain registry. The qualifications are fairly strict.

Reporter Courtney Macavinta contributed to this report.