September 29, 1998 7:15 PM PDT

NSI runs domains 1 more week

News flash: the Net will not plunge into chaos tomorrow, thanks to the weeklong extension of a federal contract to run the domain name system.

The U.S. government today decided to extend its agreement with Network Solutions to administer domain names for another week, said Becky Burr, associate administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Otherwise, Network Solutions' nearly five-year-old authority to run the most popular domain registries, ".com," ".net" and ".org," was set to expire.

The domain naming system controls everything from how a domain name is registered to how that name is resolved once a Net user types it in her browser. In other words, if the system broke down completely, the Internet would plunge into disarray.

While that scenario is highly unlikely given the high stakes, those who have been involved in the process emphasize that were the system simply abandoned, some form of chaos would surely ensue.

Therefore the U.S. government is being extremely careful about the transfer of power. Control over the domain name system can translate into serious money both through registration fees and influence over domain name issues, which interest companies wanting clearly recognizable names to engage in e-commerce.

The government, under leadership of Clinton Internet policy adviser Ira Magaziner, had been hoping to transfer its ultimate control over the system to an international nonprofit corporation with wide representation from all parties interested in the domain naming system.

In June, the administration released a white paper that called for the various domain name stake holders to meet and form consensus over transfer of power, an incredibly difficult task considering their widely divergent interests. Since then, various parties--everyone from Network Solutions to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA, the U.S. government-funded organization that runs the servers which handle the domain name system) to international business interests--have met in a variety of international conferences.

Burr acknowledged today that total consensus will be nearly impossible, but noted that many who have disagreed have sat down at the table--at the prodding of Magaziner--and reached agreements, at some point or another.

On October 1--Thursday--the NTIA is expecting to receive a formal submission from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the board that IANA has proposed.

"They're going to submit it to the Department of Commerce," Burr explained. "We're going to look at it and review it." The government also will post it on the Web and open it up for a short comment period.

Burr said the NTIA (a branch of the Department of Commerce) will also be accepting other proposals. "We may get one more plan, in which case we might have to sit in a room with folks and talk how consensus can be built," she said.

Ultimately the decision over which body to hand over authority over domains is up to the government. "We'll at some point say, this is a corporation with whom we're willing to enter into an agreement to transfer this management responsibility," Burr said.

 

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