Domain authority far from decided

Despite the extension of NSI's contract to run the domain system, officials say a real solution is far from finality.

4 min read
Network Solutions got an extra week to hold its spot as the official registry of the most popular domains, but there won't be a storm of change over the governance of the Net naming system any time soon.

For starters, the nine board members of a nonprofit entity proposed to govern the technical infrastructure of the Net, in place of the government and Network Solutions, have yet to be named. Furthermore, there are lingering concerns about the bylaws being proposed to empower this body and who will pick its members.

Players behind the scenes say the list will be open to public comment, but will likely be approved by an unofficial group that already has a hand in governing the system--including White House senior adviser Ira Magaziner and top officials from the Commerce Department, Network Solutions, and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a U.S. government-funded organization that runs the servers that handle the 12-digit Internet numbers behind the ".com," ".net," and ".org" domain names registered by Network Solutions.

Answering the White House's challenge for the establishment of a nongovernmental body to oversee the domain name system, the IANA and Network Solutions jointly proposed creating the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The final draft will be delivered to Magaziner tomorrow.

"We expect to receive the [IANA] proposal tomorrow for the new organization. We'll post that for comment for a week," Magaziner said today.

"Then we will consult with other governments in that period. If there is just one proposal, we'll negotiate recognition of that organization and then we will begin transitioning to it," he added.

The ICANN board is supposed to be neutral and include people who have not been involved in the ongoing heated debate over the future of the domain name system. There will be four members from the Americas, three from Europe, two from Asia, and a representative-at-large.

It is likely that the ICANN board will be set up, however. Names being floated in closed circles include the following: Ron Bolger, a Telecom Eireann board member; H. Brian Thompson, a Qwest Communications board member; Ray Smith, chairman of Bell Atlantic; Esther Dyson of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Dennis Jennings, formerly of the National Science Foundation; Jun Murai, a Net guru from Japan who advises the Asia Pacific Networking Group; and Nii Quanor, a high-tech entrepreneur from Ghana.

The board members are expected to be chosen by the end of October--then the real work begins.

With their board appointments set to run until September of next year, the members will be charged with solving a number of complex issues, such as international trademark disputes over domain names. The group also will have to hammer out the technical details for opening up the domain name registration business to competition, without disrupting the stability of the domain name "root" servers.

But those plans aren't set yet.

"We think this should be subjected to public process--we are setting something up that will last for several decades," Magaziner noted.

And the long-lasting impact of the new governing entity is exactly what has some in the Net community worried.

"We feel it's important that the bylaws include universal declaration of human rights so there are protections for Net users built into the new system," said Alex Fowler of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF has submitted its concerns to Magaziner. Primarily, the EFF wants to ensure that the public can participate in the governance of the domain name system; that free speech protections are adopted pertaining to domain names and Net publishing; and that there is strict public disclosure about key contracts and future deals with Network Solutions, which has a monopoly on domain name registration now.

"Network Solutions has tried to protect their interest throughout the process," the EFF's Fowler added. "And no one really knows who is going to be on this new board, so we want this process made public."

Others are concerned about the power the organization would have to set up new fees and charges for its services under the proposed bylaws.

"The latest set of proposed bylaws for the new IANA corporation are completely devoid of any provisions to create any type of fiscal accountability for the Internet's first all-powerful, government-sanctioned independent authority," said William Semich, president and chief financial officer of .NU Domain Limited.

"Nowhere in the bylaws is there any provision for any kind of independent fee-setting review process or for any kind of independent budget review or hearing mechanism or approval process for the budget, borrowing, or any other fiscal decisions," he added.

Still, other groups are hoping that the ICANN gets pushed forward so that the long-awaited domain name governance changeover can begin.

"They have walked in a mine field and presented something that works," said Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, which had proposed its own plan for the future of the domain name system and for setting up worldwide registrars.

"The plan is committed to an open process," he added. "We are not producing a constitution; it is setting up a corporation to do the mundane task of assigning names and numbers. But this will set a precedent for Net governance in the future, and this is a corporation that could decide who can be a registry--which some say translates to big dollars."