May 26, 1999 1:40 PM PDT

ICANN appoints more ".com" competitors

The nonprofit corporation anointed by numerous nations to manage the Net's addressing system is tackling its latest wave of tough decisions in Berlin this week.

For starters, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers today selected eight additional companies to tap into Network Solutions' (NSI) domain name registration system during the test-bed phase, now supposedly underway. Once accredited by ICANN, the registrars will compete to sell Net names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org."

The five NSI is still sole registrar initial test-bed companies, which include America Online, have yet to hook into NSI's shared registration system, although ICANN plans for the test program to end June 24.

However, when questioned during ICANN's meeting today about why the test-bed phase was lagging, Chuck Gomes, NSI's vice president of customer programs, said that at least one company will be ready to come online with the registration system this week.

But clearing a path for NSI competitors only scratches the surface of ICANN's impending challenges. Unfolding at ICANN's third public meeting are numerous debates over how the Net's critical addressing system will be run.

More critical issues at hand
Since 1993 NSI has enjoyed sole authority for registering the most popular domain names, which account for up to 50 percent of the world's Internet addresses.

Last year the Commerce Department appointed ICANN to create a more internationally based body to administer the Net. Until now, most functions were performed by NSI; two dozen or so global volunteers who run the Net's primary root servers; the Internet Engineering Task Force, which creates standards; and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which ICANN has absorbed.

The stakes are high. The new system could affect not only the stability of the global network but also will touch every corner of the so-called New Economy. Put simply, doing business on the Net requires two crucial components that ICANN is in charge of administering: a domain name and an Internet protocol address, which is a string of numbers that every device needs to be online.

According to observers, Net number system at a crossroads attendees in Berlin are heavily stacked on the side of commercial interests, which want to guard their investments. On the scene are numerous intellectual property attorneys, who likely swarmed in because ICANN is considering a critical proposal regarding trademark disputes over domain names.

ICANN has opened up public comment on a World Intellectual Property Organization report, which is aimed at curbing so-called cybersquatting but goes much further.

Cybersquatters register scores of domain names in hopes of reselling them to top bidders, and the plan would require name registrants to provide accurate contact information so they could be reached if someone wanted to challenge ownership of a name.

However, the plan is much broader and would give special claims on domain names to "famous" trademark holders around the globe. Legal experts such as Milton Mueller of Syracuse University and Michael Froomkin of Miami University School of Law say the trademark issue could be ICANN's most critical decision, because the registries accredited by ICANN will have to comply with any rules it adopts.

Other heavy hitters
Another closely watched faction at ICANN's meeting is its Government Advisory Committee (GAC), which represents more than 33 nations, multinational governmental organizations, and treaty organizations. Observers say the GAC, which met behind closed doors yesterday, will be a powerful force behind ICANN and that its advice will not be ignored.

After its meeting, the GAC endorsed parts of the WIPO proposal. The outcome could be the first litmus test of the influence the committee will have over ICANN.

"The GAC reaffirms the requirement for transparency and reliability of DNS registration data as recommended by the WIPO report and requests that ICANN put in place an appropriate system to authorize access to data, consistent with applicable laws or standards," the GAC stated yesterday after its meeting.

The GAC also will tackle the issue of the administration of country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), such as ".uk" for the United Kingdom.

A country's government does not always control its country codes, but that could change. The GAC suggested that when the community doesn't support a company or entity that is distributing a country code domain, ICANN might step in and "exercise its authority with the utmost promptness to reassign the delegation" of the country code.

Also on the table at the meeting is the formation of so-called domain name supporting organizations (DNSOs), which will represent various stakeholders in the Net--including domain name registrars, companies and noncommercial interests, country-code registries, online access providers, and trademark and intellectual property interests.

The DNSOs will advise ICANN on issues such as creating new top-level domains and will elect its board of directors. ICANN plans to announce tomorrow which DNSO application proposals it has picked.

In addition, ICANN's interim board has kicked off a search for a permanent CEO to replace acting chief Mike Roberts.

ICANN's meeting concludes tomorrow.

The additional firms that have been accredited to register domain names include the following: Abacus America/A+Net, Advanced Systems Consulting, CASDNS, Domain Bank, Marvin Enterprises/Global Knowledge Group, the Name-It Corporation/Advanced Internet Technologies, NetNation Communications, and PSI-Japan. Others expected to join the fray include AT&T, Verio, and firms that already let consumers reserve names such as DomainRegistry.com.

 

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