House subcommittee to hear criticism of ICANN, NSI

House members meeting this week to scrutinize the group charged with managing the Internet's crucial domain naming system will likely get an earful from a variety of powerful players.

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House members meeting this week to scrutinize the group charged with managing the Internet's crucial domain naming system are likely to get an earful from a variety of powerful players with wide-ranging alliances.

Among the speakers expected to testify at Thursday's hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations are representatives from America Online, a trade group called the Information Technology Association of America, and two companies recently appointed to open up competition in the registration of the Net's most popular form of addresses, according to Edith Holleman, minority counsel for the House Commerce Committee.

They will be joined by executives from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and Network Solutions, which already are at loggerheads, almost guaranteeing that the hearing--titled "The domain name system: is ICANN out of control?"--will carry its share of controversy.

In a related development, ICANN today bowed to opposition by suspending a $1 fee it levied for domain names registered in the ".com," ".net," and ".org" space and by allowing members of the public to attend board meetings, the corporation said. ICANN opponents criticized the fee and the closed board meetings, saying they far exceeded ICANN's limited mandate.

Transition to a shared registration system has not been without its hitches. NSI, which until recently had sole authority to register domain names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org," has refused to submit to rules imposed by ICANN. The Commerce Department, which is charged with enforcing a cooperative agreement awarded to NSI in 1992, appears to be a reluctant mediator in the dispute.

Caught in the crossfire are numerous groups with varying agendas. Chief among them are registrars hoping to get a piece of NSI's business. A coalition of about 20 of them argues that NSI is making it impossible for them to compete fairly. Other groups, however, say the problems in the transition to competition derives from ICANN, which they say has usurped control of the issues.

Also invited to testify before the House subcommittee were Richard Forman, chief executive of Register.com, and Ken Stubbs, chairman of CORE (Internet Council of Registrars), both of which were recently appointed to compete against NSI.

As reported, Forman and Stubbs spent much of last week lobbying House members. Their chief complaint: A contract NSI makes them sign to register domain names puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

A number of other players also are tentatively scheduled to appear. They include:

 Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, which is affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Love recently voiced his criticism of ICANN's plan to charge $1 for every domain name registered. In an interview with CNET News.com, however, Love said he planned to take both NSI and ICANN to task.

 Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who is expected to criticize the ICANN fee. Norquist in the past has spoken publicly about Net taxes but has yet to interject himself into issues surrounding ICANN.

 Jonathan Weinberg, a law professor at Wayne State University, who is expected to question ICANN's legal authority.

 Jonathan Zittrain, executive director at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

 Mikki Barry, president of the Domain Name Rights Coalition, which has been critical of both NSI and ICANN.

As reported last week, the hearing follows comments Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Virginia) made last month on the House floor criticizing ICANN's $1 fee. As first reported by CNET News.com, ICANN is close to going bankrupt and was counting on the fee for funding its activities.

In a letter sent today, ICANN interim chair Esther Dyson said ICANN would immediately suspend the fee, despite ICANN's financial difficulties.

"If the United States government is serious about the progress that ICANN has made and its desire is to see this process mature, short-term funding must be made available quickly," Dyson wrote to the Commerce Department, which appointed ICANN.