The Internet Files

The network is the story: News on the latest Internet standards and struggles

February  1998
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Clinton domain name plan removes government control

Boston (January 30, 1998) -- The U.S. government would transfer its authority over Internet domain names to a new, private non-profit corporation by the end of September and allow only five new generic top-level domain names, according to a plan released this morning by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The long-awaited proposal, whose release has been delayed for weeks and which already has caused rancor, calls for the government to continue overseeing policies until Sept. 30, 2000, "to assure stability" as the new corporation becomes established.

The proposed corporation will include representatives of Internet protocol number registries, domain name registries, domain name registrars, the technical community and Internet users, according to the proposal.

Domain names are alphabetic representations, appended by generic top-level domains such as .com or .org, of underlying Internet addresses. The current domain-name system is operated by Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) through a contract with the U.S. government. The contract expires in March, though an option to extend it for six months will be exercised.

Various Internet stakeholders have been jockeying for control of domain names, a key underlying administrative task of the Internet.

At the center of the debate has been the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), which has a generic top-level domains (g-TLD) plan. CORE consists of about 90 companies in 23 countries and has, without official sanction, implemented the plan to register companies for seven new generic top-level domains assigned by a shared registry. CORE is supported by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the Internet Policy Oversight Committee (POC), and the Internet Society (ISOC).

The Association of Interactive Media yesterday issued a statement saying that CORE's claims of operating a new domain name registration system are "patently ridiculous" and that it has no authority over registration.

"CORE's continued claims to this role are the last dying gasps of an ill-considered and failed power grab," the association said.

--Nancy Weil and Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service



In Europe, AOL separates content and 'Net access

London (January 30, 1998) -- With the news yesterday that America Online Inc. (AOL) would partner with Cegetel SA, Bertelsmann AG, and Canal+ SA in France to produce an online services venture with 200,000 subscribers, the trend toward the separation of Internet access and content seems set to continue in Europe.

AOL, which has been operating in France as a provider of both access and content, plans to partner with Cegetel, a telecommunications operator, and Canal+, a satellite television company. The two infrastructure companies will deal more directly with access, while AOL continues work on content with its current partner, Bertelsmann.

The deal will pool the Internet activities of all four companies. Cegetel's successful Havas Online service will begin offering content from AOL France and Bertelsmann, while Canal+ will add its own content along with satellite and cable-based Internet access in the second quarter of 1998.

Also a factor in the equation is CompuServe France and its established base of French-language content, if AOL's pending deal to acquire CompuServe's online service division goes through. All together, it makes for a complete service and access offering.

Or at least that is what the group seems to be hoping, since it will go up against the formidable France Telecom SA's Wanadoo online service.

The new venture will offer services under separate brand names, with "AOL par Cegetel" targeted at consumers and "CompuServe par Cegetel" at businesses. It isn't clear yet exactly how existing AOL, CompuServe, and Havas Online customers will be switched over the new services, however.

AOL France's move to concentrate on content and to partner with a telco and satellite provider on the access side is not a strange one to make, considering that the Microsoft Network (MSN) made a similar move in Europe a few months ago. In November, Microsoft Corp. decided it would offload its Internet access business of MSN to several telcos: France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom AG in Germany, and Pipex PLC in the U.K. In return, the telcos will provide technical support and services to the ex-MSN customers and give their own subscriber base access to MSN content.

Until that time, MSN provided branded Internet access in those three countries via a network of leasing deals with telcos. However, Microsoft found it more effective to allow telcos, which already have a network infrastructure in place, to handle the day-to-day access business, while Microsoft focused on content, officials said then.

"A year or two ago, everybody wanted to provide everything -- access, content, search capabilities. We're starting to realize we have to pick a niche," said Mike Delman, general manager of MSN in an interview with the IDG News Service last November.

The trend in Europe is definitely for online services that once offered content and access to offload their access business to infrastructure providers, said Petra Gartzen, an analyst in Dataquest's European online and multimedia software group based in London.

The idea of separating content and access crystalized last September, when AOL decided to sell off its ANS network subsidiary to telecommunications provider WorldCom Inc. in exchange for CompuServe's content division, Gartzen said. Other online services in Europe, such as MSN and Scandinavia Online, have followed the same path, Gartzen said. Scandinavia Online recently transferred all of its subscribers to the Norwegian national telecommunications carrier in order to concentrate on content, she said.

But while AOL France's partnership with infrastructure providers seems smart, AOL's other European subsidiaries, in Germany and the U.K., have different subscriber bases and will have to approach the market differently, Gartzen said. In the U.K. and Germany, AOL still offers branded Internet access, she said.

"AOL in France was virtually non-existent," Gartzen said. "They needed new clients in France," but in the U.K. and Germany, where the subscriber bases are quite large, AOL would need to think twice about how or whether to hand its subscribers over to a telco or large Internet service provider, she said.

AOL U.K., with 350,000 subscribers, has no plans to enter into any such partnerships in the near future, said a spokeswoman today. In addition, the British company has no intention to merge the CompuServe and AOL brands in the U.K. "CompuServe and AOL are totally separate right now, and they have different functions," she said. "We wouldn't be doing ourselves any favors to merge the two brands."

--Kristi Essick, IDG News Service


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