June 5, 1997 1:30 PM PDT

Domain planners dismiss critics

The president of the Internet Society today dismissed charges that a plan to expand Net domain names is a "power grab."

As reported yesterday by CNET's NEWS.COM, leaders of an Internet industry coalition said they want the International Ad Hoc Committee's domain name plan stopped in its tracks. The Association for Interactive Media (AIM) is an industry group with more than 300 members, including CNET: The Computer Network.

AIM said the Internet Society and other backers of the plan that want to offer more domain names are using the issue to gain control of the Internet's virtual underpinnings. AIM leaders have formed the Open Internet Congress to fight the plan to add seven new categories, such as ".firm" and ".web," to the Net's store of global top-level domains like ".com". However, none of AIM members have yet endorsed the leadership's position.

The IAHC plan was created by the Internet Society--a nonprofit organization that counts both industry heavyweights and individuals among its members, but claims impartiality--and by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. The IANA is a group of engineers who have historically cared for and fed the computers that run the Internet's naming and numbering systems.

Today, the IANA, led by Jon Postel, parcels out critical resources including Internet Protocol numbers for North America and exercises de facto control over the "root" servers that direct traffic on the global network. It matches up IP numbers, which indicate the physical location of a computer such as a Web server with corresponding names, such as "cnet.com." The domain name system makes it possible for Net users to send email, transfer a file, or surf the Web without memorizing IP numbers, which can contain up to 12 digits.

AIM is not the first to criticize the volunteer group for being exclusionary and hasty in its strategy to rework the way domain names are handed out and managed. A coalition of Internet service providers and the White House have both criticized the plan.

But what started out as a squabble over the domain name system has turned into an international battle over who will control key Internet resources, and through them, the future of the Internet.

"We need to have a massive open meeting whose sole purpose is to ask who should run the Internet and guarantee that everyone is present. It needs to be a group that is responsive to all constituencies, internationally," AIM president Andy Sernovitz said today.

But Internet Society president Don Heath dismissed Sernovitz's criticism as grandstanding, saying the process has been open all along, but AIM chose not to involve itself until now. "This is an attempt at publicity by an organization that would seem to be using the notoriety of the open IAHC effort to further its own survival," Heath wrote in a statement today. "The IAHC plan is open to all and is designed to serve the Internet stakeholders; it is designed to evolve as the consensus dictates."

The opposition has intensified after the IAHC recently dissolved itself, each committee member appointing a board member in a new group known as the interim Policy Oversight Committee (iPOC).

"Our main concern is that the IAHC doesn't speak for the Internet community. Their recent move to elect themselves to run the successor organization looks like a power grab to us," Sernovitz said.

Heath said the people behind the plan have proven their integrity. "The Internet Society and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority have served the Internet and its users well. They are dedicated to the principles of the IETF which demands 'rough consensus,' a term used to define broad and deep agreement among the stakeholders."

AIM is holding the "Internet Constitutional Convention" on July 9 in Washington to collect public and industry opinion on what should be done about the future of domain names--a process it says the IAHC ignored.

Internet service provider PSINet also came out against the IAHC. The ISP said the main player in the online domain name game was in a "mad rush" to enforce the plan, which was endorsed by about 80 groups and companies in Geneva in May, including telecommunications giant MCI.

The IAHC says its plan is designed to create competition in registering domain names, which are currently available only from a U.S. government-assisted monopoly.

Currently, Network Solutions oversees the InterNIC, which is the only registry that can assign domain names in so-called "generic" top-level domains, such as ".com," ".org," and ".net." Around 200 other registries handle geographically linked domain names, such as ".sf.ca.us" for San Francisco.

The company will lose its contract in March of 1998 because the National Science Foundation, which sponsored the InterNIC, is washing its hands of its former research network. The NSF had years earlier divested itself of the powerful backbone equipment that carries the majority of Internet traffic. It announced it would discontinue funding the InterNIC in April.

The NSF said it will put its money into experimental academic and research projects, like the new next-generation Internet. The move has left a vacuum of power on the Internet and sparked a debate about who should rightfully govern the sprawling global network.

The White House's interagency task force, too, cited a lack of widespread input as one of its concerns about the plan. However, its members were more concerned that the plan, which uses two United Nations' intergovernmental groups as watchdogs and repositories, could force the U.S. government to become involved in regulating other aspects of the Internet, including content.

The White House has so far resisted pressure, mostly from Asian and Western European countries, to discuss subjects like censorship and Internet technology standards in those forums because of its opposition to government interference in the evolving Internet.

The Clinton administration has said it would prefer a private-sector solution to both the short-term problem of adding more domain name space and the longer-term issues of how to administer the Internet's shared resources. But the administration may find it difficult to stick to its laissez-faire policies in the face of mounting pressure to mediate or at least offer guidance in the increasingly acrimonious dispute.

 

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