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What's in a name? On the Internet, everything

Industry group tries to recast domain name system, but how can it manage such a task? Will 7 new domain names stick amid the controversy?

February  1997
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Tokyo (02/05/97) -- Aiming to set up a more useful naming convention, and likely to draw fire for doing so, a coalition of Internet insiders announced a plan to revamp the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS).

The plan, which goes into motion immediately, is the latest maneuver in a yearlong battle among groups trying to push their views as to how Internet domain names -- identifiers such as or -- are assigned.

Under the plan announced by the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC), the Internet would see seven new, generic top-level domain names, which would be distributed by up to 28 domain name registrars around the world.

Backers say the new scheme is intended to address what some see as core problems with the current DNS, including its U.S.-centric administrative structure and its lack of a system for arbitrating trademark disputes over domain names.

Currently the top-level domains fall into several classes, including national (such as .jp for Japan), international (such as .com, .org, .net, and .int) and U.S.-specific (such as .mil, .gov, and .edu). Attached to them are second-level domains such as mcdonalds, ibm, or afab.

The new domain names are as follows:

The IAHC feels it has the stature to make the new domains stick. It draws its 11 members from high-profile international organizations, including the Internet Society, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the Internet Architecture Board, the Federal Networking Council, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the International Trademark Association, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The committee, set up late last year by the Internet Society, draws two of its members from IANA, which is one of the key overseers of the current DNS. Promoters argue that committee members span the key international organizations that oversee, in the world outside the Internet, issues that parallel that of domain names.

In addition, the IAHC expects to win over the company that currently has a near monopoly on domain names, Network Solutions Inc.

"[NSI] is interested in cooperating with the proposal," said David Maher, an attorney with Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago and a member of the IAHC. "They accept the concept that their effective monopoly is coming to an end."

Since its inception, the IAHC has been surrounded by debate. Critics argue that it does not represent all of the "interested parties" affected by changes to the DNS.

At issue for many objectors is the nature by which the IAHC devised its plan. Detractors say that the committee did not hold a review period for the plan in which noncommittee members could submit comments that would then be included in a final consensus.

"The committee should have come up with a procedure by which domains could be nominated," said one observer who asked not to be named. "This proposal is just going to generate years of interminable arguments that no one can solve."

Underlying the debate is the possibility that whoever controls the DNS could make huge amounts of money and wield tremendous influence over the Internet as a medium for commerce.

Since many businesses draw much of their strength from a company name, product names, and other trademarks, the organization that manages those names on the Internet could have significant influence over commerce on the Internet. The NSI has already been hit by a number of lawsuits over trademark disputes involving the current system.

To allow for possible trademark disputes over new domain names, the IAHC proposal allows an optional 60-day waiting period for registrants. If a trademark dispute arises, a "panel of international experts" operating under the aegis of the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center in Geneva would arbitrate.

Organizations competing for a say in the revamped DNS structure also point to the potential revenues, perhaps tens of millions of dollars, that NSI gains from charging US$50 for each name.

A free-market aspect is key to the IAHC proposal, under which the registrars overseeing the domain names would compete with one another on price and other matters. The registrars will be chosen by lottery after meeting certain specifications considered necessary for allocating domain names, IAHC members said.

Registrar applications will be accepted through the end of this month, and the committee tentatively plans to grant authority to the first registrars by March 15.

Each registrar will have membership in a Switzerland-based association to be called the Council of Registrars, which will create and enforce the registration process, according to the committee members.

In addition, the ITU has agreed in principle to act as the depository for a memorandum of understanding open to private and public entities by which those entities will be able to have a say on the DNS in the future, according to Don Heath, president of the Internet Society (ISOC) and chairman of IAHC.

--Rob Guth

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