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Lukewarm response on domains

The Commerce Department's request for public comment on domain names draws about 300 responses, but most of the major players are silent.

The Commerce Department's request for public comment on administration of the Internet's domain naming system drew about 300 filed responses, but most of the major commercial online players remained silent.

Many companies that have invested heavily to build brands around specific domain names did not offer Commerce information or perspective on the domain debate, as the agency had hoped they would. The comment period ended August 18.

The apparent apathy on the part of major Net names symbolizes a bigger problem: There are too many forces tugging at the future of ".com," ".net," and ".org." The issues are so complex and there are so many conflicting proposals on the table from different interests that many businesses may simply be too confused to enter the debate or too busy to hire a lawyer to write a position.

Instead, random surfers, some local Internet service providers, college professors, copyright lawyers, conspiracy theorists, and the vocal enemies who've been struggling to control the domain name service accounted for the majority of respondents, with a sprinkling of trade associations and foreign governmental authorities.

But time is running out for the future of the domain name system (DNS). The most popular and desirable Internet names are registered by the world's largest registrar, the InterNIC. Run by Network Solutions under agreement with the National Science Foundation, the InterNIC has registered almost 1.3 million domain names since 1993.

This agreement, which runs out in March of 1998, will not be renewed, yet the NSF has made no plans for what happens next. In the meantime, a struggle has ensued over who will control the Internet's domain system.

So far, the government has only heard from the warring parties. This call for comments was an attempt to reach other entities that have a stake in the future of the Internet. Current combatants for control of the domain name system include the Internet Society, which sponsored an ad hoc committee that proposed a plan last year to add seven new domain names and to take over and expand Network Solutions' role.

MCI also supports the plan. But that plan, which was ratified by 80 individuals and organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, in May, has come under fire from several different groups.

The government has clearly indicated that it wants out of Net administration and would prefer to see a private sector solution. However, after watching the feuding factions spin their wheels for months, the administration has said it will help facilitate the discussion. The Commerce Department's request ignores the ad hoc committee plan and starts from scratch by asking basic questions about what purpose the naming system should serve and who should control it.

Mistaking the comment period for a popularity contest, hundreds of PGMedia supporters spammed the federal agency with identical petitions in support of the company's commercial system to allow limitless new top-level domains, such as ".web."

Regardless of the disappointing turnout, many of the respondents surprisingly supported abolishing the global top-level domains and replacing them with geographical, or trade-specific, longer domain names that would allow several different types of businesses with the same name to both have DNS entries. For example, fast-food giant McDonald's might be "" while McDonald's Plumbing could have ""

The Commerce Department is expected to construct a reply to the comments, but no deadline has been set.