March 4, 1997 4:15 PM PST

Rogue domains revolt

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In the midst of a stormy debate over Internet names, a group of so-called rogue naming businesses declared war on the establishment today.

Calling themselves theEnhanced Domain Naming Service Consortium (eDNS), the group aims for no less than the destruction of the existing system for selling domain names--"cnet.com," for instance--the group said in a press release today.

Under the eDNS consortium's proposal, the selling of domain names would be taken out of the hands of government contractors and put into the hands of the free market.

Currently, Internet commercial domain names are issued almost exclusively by government contractor Network Solutions Inc. as part of its responsibilities under the InterNIC grant and cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

However, some independent businesses have set up their own top-level domains (TLDs), such as ".biz," and have begun selling names that are not supported by the InterNIC.

But because the government controls the "root servers" that direct traffic over the Internet and because it doesn't recognize the independent registries, these alternate names are recognized at present by only about one-half of one percent of the Internet. So says Karl Denninger, founder of the eDNS consortium and president of Chicago internet service provider MCSNet.

Under the eDNS plan, today's Internet names in top-level domains such as ".com" and ".gov" would be recognized alongside the names sold by independent registries.

Sympathetic Internet service providers would point their servers away from today's "official" root-level servers, those run by a group of four engineers called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), and toward replacement root servers run by the eDNS consortium.

But unlike a current plan for expanding the number of TLDs to compete with the popular ".com," the eDNS proposal calls for an unlimited number of new registries in an unlimited number of new TLDs on a first-come, first-served basis. The group has already set up seven new TLDs including ".web," a TLD that the opposing plan claims for its own, and which eDNS consortium member and Internet Online Design president Chris Ambler has sued over.

The eDNS plan comes in direct opposition to plans from a committee created by IANA and the Internet Society, a membership trade group. The Internet Ad Hoc committee (IAHC), founded late last year, is charged with creating more commercial domain names that would compete with the ".com" domain, one of several Network Solutions already administers. It plans to create seven new top-level domains that it will sell by lottery later this year.

To enter the lottery, businesses have to pay $20,000, employ at least ten people, have $500,000 in reserves, and meet other stringent requirements. The winners of the domains are expected to pass back to IAHC a percentage of their registration fees.

Denninger and others have vociferously criticized the plan saying that the Internet domain name space is a public resource created with public funds. Therefore, it shouldn't be monopolized by any single entity.

Squeezed between the groups is the National Science Foundation. Charged with running the Internet in its early days when it was still primarily a research-based academic network, the NSF finds itself in the middle of a commercial wrangle that it desperately wants out of. NSF officials, including Don Mitchell, who oversees the InterNIC, repeatedly assert that the agency is not and never has been a regulatory agency.

The NSF made some moves towards divesting itself of the responsibility of running and regulating the Internet when it offloaded its backbone to several different major companies. However, it seems to be stuck in the position of reluctant law giver when it comes to domain names.

"The NSF is happy to see whatever solutions the community puts forward, but we can't comment on any particular proposal versus another," said NSF spokeswoman Beth Gaston. "As an agency, we're not in a position to direct the future of a commercial medium like the Internet. It has now grown far beyond our original mission."

The NSF's internal policing agency, the Office of the Inspector General, has also recently completed a report that examines how domain names are issued. The report will not be made public until the NSF director has drafted a formal reply.

IANA chairmain Jon Postel could not be reached for comment. Network Solutions representatives were unavailable.

 

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