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Internet

Who will master domain names?

A group of influential Net players will meet to figure out once and for all who will govern names in cyberspace.

    A newly formed coalition is pulling together heavy hitters in the debate over the future of the Net domain name system, to figure out once and for all who will govern the "white pages" of cyberspace.

    Facilitated by a United Kingdom information technology service provider, Prince plc, a working group consisting of international companies and academics, who have a stake in the DNS, will convene for three "Internet Executive Summits."

    Today Prince announced that rivals Network Solutions (NSI) and the ad hoc group known as the interim Policy Oversight Committee (IPOC) have joined up with a handful of others to hammer out a transition plan for the expiration of the government contract, to discuss other issues of international Net governance, and to mull over solutions to issues such as domain-name trademark disputes.

    NSI has a contract with the National Science Foundation until March of 1998 to administer the registration of the most popular top-level domains, such as ".com," ".edu," and ".net." The IPOC, which was set up by the Internet Society, plans to compete with NSI when the playing field opens up, and has already registered more than 85 global registrants.

    Participants will write papers and debate the issue starting in January at a meeting in London, followed by summits in Washington and the Far East in February and March. The last-ditch effort by the private sector comes as the Commerce Department gets ready to release its recommendations for the DNS by the end of this week.

    The DNS works like a phone book for the Net, correlating Web site names such as "cnet.com" with a 12-digit Internet protocol address, which makes the information accessible on the Net. During House hearings on the issue last month, many said if the transition from the public to private sector was not handled meticulously, then the Net would face rampant instability.

    This is not the first time NSI and the ad hoc group have discussed these issues--they have been doing so during the past two years. Both groups testified before Congress last month about their concerns for the stability of the Net when the NSI's government contract ends. They also have submitted numerous white papers pushing their competing plans.

    For example, NSI wants a government body to oversee the transition. It also is lobbying to maintain its existing customers, who will have paid an estimated $400 million to register domain names by next year. Claiming NSI has a monopoly on the domain-name registry business, the ad hoc group wants to have multiple registrars, access to NSI's registration database, and to add at least seven new domains, such as ".web" and ".rec."

    Other groups that will take part in the summits include: the Information Technology Association of America, Interactive Services Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, UK Computer Software and Services Association, and the Asia & Pacific Internet Association. Microsoft, America Online, Viacom, and others were invited to sign on as well.