Internet

Domain registrar moves ahead

A group trying to add seven new top-level domain names to the Internet is proceeding with plans to test its registry system despite unclear authority.

A group trying to add seven new top-level domain names to the Internet said today it is moving ahead with its plans to test its registry system.

The Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), born out of the Policy Oversight Committee (POC, also known as iPOC), said it plans to test its system and introduce the new domain names on the Internet by March.

But as with most issues in the domain name space, it is far from clear who has the ultimate authority to flip the final switch that makes the domains live for the Internet.

Today's announcement comes days shy of the widely anticipated release of a government paper on domain name governance. President Clinton's Internet policy adviser, Ira Magaziner, has spent the last several months studying the complex issues of Internet governance and domain ownership.

The results are expected in a Commerce Department paper that will be released on the Internet by the end of the month, according to Becky Burr, a spokeswoman for the department.

The paper, which sprang from a series of Commerce hearings held last year, originally was due in November. But Burr said officials decided to take extra time to study the issue. In addition, many people from all sides of the issue have been contacted by Magaziner.

Who controls domain names is not merely an esoteric question. There are millions of dollars at stake, as well as what some say is control over the commercial Internet. Currently, Network Solutions holds the government contract--administered by the National Science Foundation--to register the most popular top-level domain names, such as ".com," ".net," and ".org."

Along with the authority, Network Solutions gets registration fees of $100 for two years for every top-level domain name registered.

But Network Solutions' contract to run the Internet registry expires in September, and it is widely anticipated that at that point it will face new competition.

Network Solutions has been trying to prepare for that inevitability. So have members of CORE, who plan to introduce seven new top-level domains: ".firm," ".info," ".nom," ".rec," ".shop," ".web," and ".arts."

Whether CORE will be able to do so is the subject of great debate. Aside from the fact that two organizations claim ownership of two of the names--".web" and ".arts"--the plan has been dogged by controversy from those who say that CORE is assuming authority it does not actually have.

CORE chairman Alan Hanson said today that the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has the authority over accepting the domain names.

But for the top-level domains to actually work, Network Solutions has to physically add them to the "root zone," the main directory that acts as the master telephone directory for the entire Internet.

The National Science Foundation also has instructed Network Solutions to hold off from making any changes to the domain name system for now, at least until the Commerce Department report is released.

While many have asked for authority to add domains, the government and others are concerned that allowing anyone to add a domain could literally plunge the Internet into a state of chaos.

Hanson noted the process is working by consensus, but others, especially those who have set up alternative domain naming systems, have accused the POC of holding on tightly to its reins of power.

Meanwhile, Hanson said he has had had "no indication from anyone in the government" that CORE's plan would not go through. The idea is to have multiple companies that can register the new domain names to create competition both in pricing and service, he added