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Net naming plan plows ahead

Despite challenges to its authority, the Internet Ad Hoc Committee will expand the Net's domain naming system.

Despite challenges to its authority to do so, the Internet Ad Hoc Committee announced today that it's going ahead with a plan to expand the Net's domain naming system.

Members of the international IAHC signed a memorandum of understanding today to create up to 28 independent naming registries. They will compete with Network Solutions of Herndon, Virginia, a company that now has an exclusive lock on registering Net names in the most popular domains, including ".com." The exclusive arrangement is part of the InterNIC cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

The new IAHC registries could begin selling names in as little as 90 days for seven new global top-level domains, including ".web" and ".firm." The final plan lowers some of the previously proposed monetary barriers to becoming a registrar. It also opens up Network Solutions' ".com", ".net", and ".org" registries to competition after the company's agreement expires in 1998.s

But the committee may not get that far. Not only is the IAHC named in two lawsuits, but it is also under scrutiny from national governments, which are just beginning to take notice of Internet domain naming issues.

PGP Media filed an antitrust suit against Network Solutions, claiming it is conspiring with the IAHC in its plan, which amounts to restraint of trade and monopolistic practices. The IAHC is named in the suit, though not a party to it. In addition, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a member of the IAHC, is being sued by Image Online Design, which alleges that IANA chair Jon Postel reneged on a promise to award it the ".web" registry.

Perhaps most significant, state and international governments are set to get involved in domain naming issues, a move that could put IAHC's plans on indefinite hold. The governments may supersede the volunteer committee's plans altogether, should governments decide that their involvement in parceling out Internet names is in their interest.

The White House recently convened an interagency task force to examine how Internet resources are handed out, particularly domain names and the 12-digit Internet numbers behind them. The informal task force, which includes members from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Office of Management and Budget, has just begun examining the issues and is already floating the idea of public hearings.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is also considering the domain name issue. According to a story in yesterday's CommunicationsWeek International, the OECD will release a report in June that sets benchmarks for domain name registration fees and emphasizes how important the domain naming system is to identification, taxation, and other critical governmental functions.

Meanwhile, the accepted official domain naming system is fracturing. Several independent name registries have set up shop and are selling domain names without the blessing of the IAHC, Network Solutions, or the National Science Foundation. Access to most of these names must be obtained through the Extended Domain Name System, or eDNS, a mirror of the Internet's existing accepted official domain naming system.

IAHC, however, points out that the committee's plan has garnered some high-profile industry support, including MCI, which owns a substantial chunk of the Internet infrastructure, and UUNET.