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Domain questions still open

As the White House grapples over the transfer of the domain name system to the private sector, key questions remain unanswered.

With 650 public comments in hand, the Clinton administration is grappling over the next step in its plan to transfer control of the Internet domain name system to the private sector.

During a House basic research subcommittee hearing yesterday, White House senior policy adviser Ira Magaziner said many parties in the debate are hedging closer toward agreement.

But after the Dueling domains hearing--appropriately titled "The Domain Name System: Where Do We Go From Here?"--some of the most important questions remained glaringly unanswered. For example: Who will manage the back end of the Net naming system? Who will have the lucrative rights to register the names? Will new domains be added, and how will trademark disputes be resolved?

"From the beginning of the hearing, Magaziner was very straightforward that the green paper was still just a proposal," a subcommittee staff member, who asked not be named, said today. "There are still questions about whether there is enough time to start this transition by September. We asked his staff, 'What is your next step?' But they weren't explicit about what will happen next."

Despite a published report that Magaziner said he plans to hold a round of public forums on the issue, his staff said today that no such meetings are on the agenda. "Right now we don't have any meetings in the works. We're just in the process of reviewing the comments," an aide to Magaziner said.

The domain name system allows users to reach the Web sites and email addresses they want by typing in simple names, such as "," instead of 12-number strings. With the commercialization of the Net, companies have built brands around these monikers.

When the government announced last year that it wanted to relinquish its oversight of the domain system, some powerful industry players stepped up the plate with competing business models and transition plans. Magaziner is planning to work with competing private sector interests to hammer out a plan that will make the transfer as smooth as possible.

Most of yesterday's hearing surrounded the the Commerce Department's domain name green paper released January 30. The report proposes transferring the technical infrastructure of the domain name system from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to a private, not-for-profit corporation with a 15-member board that includes representation from the international private and public sectors.

CNET Radio talks to NTIA's Becky Burry
The public comment period in the green paper ended March 24, and a revised plan is expected to be released within six weeks, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

IANA oversees the actual mechanism that makes domain names function, but Network Solutions holds the government contract to register the most popular Net names.

The Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), a group of international businesses that each paid $10,000 to start their own registry with seven top-level domains, charges that Network Solutions has a monopoly on name distribution. Under policy outlined in the green paper, Network Solutions would have to share its registry database.

The private entities vying for the domain name registry business object to parts of the green paper. For example, CORE, which stands to be hurt by the U.S. proposal, wants IANA to remain in the driver's seat.

Magaziner and Jim Courter of CORE told the subcommittee that they see room for compromise, but other groups involved in the issue have raised additional concerns. The European Union, for instance, has criticized the green paper for being U.S.-centric.