CongressLine - What's in a Name? The Domain Name Imbroglio

 


Carol M. Morrissey has been a  Legislative Specialist in Washington, D. C. office for 13 years. She is a lawyer and legislative expert who has also authored a Congressional update column for the last 6 years.

 

Network Solutions Inc. (NSI)

IANA

They always say to begin at the beginning and, in this case, it all began when the U.S. government decided to end its involvement in the business of selling domain names. A domain name is the text at the end of an e-mail or Web site address (such as "llrx.com") which acts as a "map" by which people can locate your site and correspond with you through e-mail. There are seven generic top-level domains (otherwise known as gTLDs); one is reserved for educational institutions, two for the U.S. government and the military, one for international treaty organizations and three (".com", ".org" and ".net") which are commercially viable.

Five years ago, the U.S. government (through the National Science Foundation) gave Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) a contract to manage the registration of domain names. (Please go to the NSI homepage and registration information.) NSI, which is located in Herndon, Va., coordinates the domain names with an organization called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (or the IANA). The IANA is a government "sponsored" not-for-profit organization which has the task of matching the domain name to the 32 bit numbers that represent the real location of your computer on the Internet.  NSI's records indicate there are 2.3 million domain names currently on file (over 400,000 registered between April and June alone!) and the registration fee is currently set at $70.00 per name. Clearly, NSI is doing quite well financially and is engendering ill-will within the community due to its virtual "monopoly" status.

The Government's Stance

The government's disenchantment with the domain name system (or DNS) was initially articulated in A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, which was released by the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) in July of 1997. In this paper, the Administration took the position that the Internet had reached the point in its development where the technical management of the domain name system must be wrested from government control and privatized. The Administration also called for increased competition and international cooperation in the DNS. These principles became proposals when the Department of Commerce and the NTIA released, A Proposal to Improve Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses on January 30, 1998.

The proposed rulemaking, known as the "Green Paper," sparked an intense and heated debate which has raged this entire year. Central to the Paper's thesis is the creation of a private, nonprofit corporation based in the United States to manage the DNS. The government would gradually transfer authority to the new corporation beginning in October of 1998, with a "ramp-down" period to the end of the year 2000 to insure operational stability. The Paper would also create a 15 member Board of Directors to oversee the new corporation. (For a discussion of the Green Paper, please see the statement of Ira Magaziner, the Administration's E-Commerce guru, before the Subcommittee on Basic Research.

Following a period in which the Department of Commerce received over 400 comments on the Green Paper, the Administration released its DNS Statement of Policy on June 5, 1998.

Otherwise known as the White Paper, it reiterates many of the ideas outlined in the Green Paper, but is notable in that it does not attempt to dictate the policy of the new corporation created under its auspices. The United States would still host the new corporation, which has raised the ire of foreign governments (as one commentator quipped, "Who died and made the Americans god?"). However, the Administration argues that our host status is justified by the sheer number of domain name's located in the United States and our large body of DNS expertise. Deferred to a later time is the creation of possibly five new gTLDs which had been proposed in the Green Paper. In the spirit of competition and as referenced in the Green Paper, NSI would be required to provide registration services to any competitive registrar with a customer interested in registering under a ".com", ".net" and ".org" domain name. (J. Beckwith Burr, Associate Administrator of NTIA, discusses the White Paper before the subcommittee on Telecommunications of the House committee on Commerce.



A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce

 

Statement of Ira Magaziner

 

DNS Statement of Policy

International Forum on the White Paper

Implementation of a New Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA

IANA Proposals

Internet Council of Registrars (CORE)

The Community

The Internet Community has not been idle during this process. Countless meetings, conventions and forums have been held between all of the ad hoc groups which comprise the Internet "stakeholders." The International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP), an ad hoc coalition of professional, trade, educational associations, ISP's and anyone with a stake in the future of the Net ("stake holder") has held a series of international meetings in an attempt to reach a concensus on the DNS.

The most recent proposal to issue from the Community has been dubbed the "new IANA" and was put forth for discussion by Jon Postel, the driving force behind the IANA.  (Implementation of a New Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Click here for a text of the most current bylaws proposed by the IANA. Although previous IANA proposals drew fire from the community, this most recent proposal has been endorsed by the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), one of the IANA's most vociferous opponents. (For a list of all of the IANA proposals, please go to: http://www.iana.org/news.html.)

CORE admits that the new IANA will need some "minor changes" in order to be accepted by the international Internet Community, but is viable since it adheres in principle to the self-governance guidelines of the Administration's White Paper.  For their response to the White Paper, go to: http://www.corenic.org/press_releases/june05.htm.) The IFWP is divided over the proposal, with some members concerned that it creates an organization which will not be accountable to the global Internet community. However, as the proposal is up for a final vote at the end of September, critics are confident that concessions will be made by the IANA in order to reach a concensus.

No matter what the outcome of the vote, the contract between NSI and the government is set to expire on September 30, 1998. Ira Magaziner has stated that the government would continue its regulatory function if there is no alternative, but that is certainly not the desired outcome. Meanwhile, we will wait for the vote along with the Adminstration, and hope, for the sake of international comity and progress, that the disparate interests of the ad hoc coalitions can agree.

Please visit the following web sites for some excellent information on the DNS controversy: the Internet Society; the Asia Pacific International Forum White Paper and Robert Cannon's Internet Governance and Domain Names site, for additional jump sites, articles and commentary.