As the period for testing a new registration system for
Internet addresses was set to expire, officials from
the Commerce Department and the dominant registrar gave few details about
their attempts to negotiate set of contentious
issues holding up full-scale competition.
Meanwhile, Capitol Hill signaled its growing interest in the stalemate by
firing off two more letters criticizing various players for allowing
personal agendas to threaten the future stability of the system.
Tomorrow is the scheduled end of the "test bed" period for a shared system
for registering the most popular form of domain names. The test period,
which began on April 26, has been extended twice before, and two sources
said privately that it likely will be again.
Under the shared registration plan, being administered by the Commerce Department and the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), five registrars were appointed to
test the system for registering domain names ending in ".com," ".net," and
".org." Until recently, Network Solutions Incorporated had sole authority to register the names, which
account for about 75 percent of the Net's addresses. Another 52 registrars
are in line to tap into the system once the trial period ends.
The delays have come as NSI and Commerce officials try to settle their
differences on a host of complicated issues.
Under the shared registration system, NSI will
continue to administer the master registry of addresses that each new
registrar must plug into in order to issue domain names. NSI and the Commerce
Department are sharply divided over what NSI's rights and responsibilities
should be under the arrangement.
For example, NSI says that it has proprietary rights to the information
behind more than 5 million addresses it registered as a sole government
contractor. Critics, including Commerce Department officials, say that
would give NSI an unfair advantage over its new competitors-- a circumstance barred
by a cooperative
agreement NSI signed in 1992. NSI and Commerce officials are
also clashing over the fee registrars must pay to access NSI's registry, as
well as the terms the new competitors must adhere to.
"We're having very productive conversations," a Commerce
official said, declining further comment. An NSI official agreed that the
parties, which have met every day since last Friday, are making progress,
but also declined to elaborate.
Separately, Capitol Hill sent two new letters taking various players to
task for their various roles in the stalemate. In one, Mike Dewine (R-Ohio)
and Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), the chair and ranking member of the Senate
subcommittee on antitrust, respectively, chided NSI, ICANN, and the Commerce
Department for not resolving the issues, saying the "feud has the potential
to seriously damage the stability and proper functioning of the Internet."
The letter was especially critical of NSI's claim that it owns the
information behind the domains it has registered: "It raises serious
questions regarding whether NSI is attempting improperly to use its
pervious monopoly position to disadvantage competitors," the letter stated.
The letter also criticized ICANN for not electing a "permanent board of
directors representative of the Internet community" and its now abandoned
decision to impose a $1 annual fee on every domain name. "ICANN must
remain focused on its core mission--ensuring competition in domain name
registrations, and maintaining uniform and efficient technical standards
for the operation of the Internet," the senators wrote.
In a separate letter, Rep. Tom Bliley, a frequent ICANN critic who hails
from Virginia, where NSI is located, raised the possibility that a senior
White House official improperly raised money to fund the nonprofit, which
faces about $800,000 in debts. Bliley's letter, addressed to Clinton
counsel Charles Ruff, included an email that recounts a conversation in
which the official, Tom Kalil, supposedly promised to encourage private
companies to donate money to ICANN.
Bliley raised the possibility that such activities might violate federal
law. White House officials did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The letters represent only the latest interest shown by Capitol Hill in the
conflict. In addition to other letters sent recently about the
issue, two House subcommittees in as many weeks have held hearings. The
Senate, meanwhile, is also considering a bill that would prevent
"cybersquatting," in which a person registers trademarked names as domain
names and then sells them back to their rightful owner at a steep profit.