The Internet community appears to be a step closer to reaching consensus on how to run the complicated and powerful Internet domain naming system.
The Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) this week issued the third, and what it hopes will be the final, draft of a proposal to establish a new international nonprofit corporation with wide representation from all parties interested in the domain naming system.
While not everyone supports the proposal, Jon Postel, who runs the IANA, said in a statement: "We have tried faithfully to serve as an 'honest broker,' seeking to combine all this input into concepts and eventually documents that would have the broadest possible acceptance from all parts of the Internet community.
"We hope and believe that this third version is essentially the final version; that it will be endorsed and supported by nearly all of those stakeholders that are participating in this process; and that it will also protect the legitimate interests of the millions of individuals and groups that have an interest in the outcome of this process but have not been able to directly participate in it," he added.
Currently, the system is run under government contract by a few powerful organizations: the IANA, a U.S. government funded organization that runs the servers that handle the domain name system; and privately held Network Solutions, which currently has a government contract to register all top-level domain names including ".com" and ".net" under the guise of the InterNIC.
But instead of devising its own plan for the new system, the government, spearheaded by Clinton Internet policy adviser Ira Magaziner, basically handed the task over to the Internet community, calling for the many diverging interests on the Net--individuals, organizations, and businesses throughout the globe--to come together to establish a new nonprofit board that would run the system and make decisions.
Ever since then, various sides have gathered in high-powered meetings trying to find a solution.
The task has not been easy. But there is much at stake: The organization that runs the system will make decisions that will affect the bottom lines for thousands of businesses and individuals. There also is the potential for a windfall of millions of dollars for those who get to run aspects of the system. And perhaps more importantly, technologically speaking, domain names are the root system of the Net. Without them, users would not be able to reach their chosen pages.
While a blackened Internet seems somewhat farfetched, some simply fear that without action, the organizations that currently run the system will continue doing so, leaving important stakeholders out of the equation altogether.
The community is currently faced with an ominous deadline: At the end of September, Network Solutions' contract expires. And it isn't entirely clear what will happen at that point.
Magaziner called for the transition to be completed by September 30, 2000, and he has said that he thinks consensus is possible. But he also said that if it was not reached, he would bring the various parties together.
The IANA's proposal today got mixed reviews.
"IANA's proposal is the closest thing yet to a proposal that would really serve the Internet community," said Carl Oppedahl, an attorney who has litigated on behalf of domain name owners. "It is much better than proposals by others, including Network Solutions."
But, as if to show just how contentious this issue is, another domain name stakeholder was more critical of the proposal. Christopher Ambler, founder of Image Online, which runs its own alternative Web registry, said the proposal would give the IANA too much power.
The proposal, he said in an email interview, "has, as a glaring example, no information about how the first board is to be selected. As written, it seems to me that Jon Postel [who runs the IANA] could just appoint them, and that's not acceptable."
Ambler said that in fact, he backs the plan proposed by Network Solutions.
But David Maher, the chairman of a group called the Policy Oversight Committee, which had worked with Postel in putting out its own domain name plan, also supported the IANA plan.
"I think this is the answer we've been looking for," he said. "I think this will be fully supported by the business community at large."
Attorney Oppedahl acknowledged that total consensus will be nearly impossible, but said that he thought that most people would favor the IANA proposal.
As for the next step, Oppedahl said, "No one knows. What is desperately needed is for everyone to give their backing to some concrete plan, of which IANA's is the least bad in my view. If everyone fails to take action, [Network Solutions] will continue to sit on its monopoly position."
Some of the points in the IANA proposal are as follows: