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

November  1997
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Victims of Moldovian re-rout to get refunds

Boston (November 5, 1997) -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission ruled yesterday that Internet users who racked up large long-distance telephone charges because their online calls were routed through the nation of Moldova will receive $2.74 million in refunds.

More than 38,000 Internet users will receive refunds for calls made as they accessed four adult sites on the World Wide Web and tried to use purportedly free software enabling them to download erotic photos, according to published reports.

The refunds are part of two settlements the FTC said yesterday it has reached with several companies and individuals who used the software to connect Internet users to international telephone numbers.

The program rerouted users from their local Internet service providers to a number in Moldova, which is in Europe. Then, the calls went to a site in Canada that charged even higher rates -- up to $2 a minute. Some Internet users had thousands of dollars in long-distance calls.

Audiotex Connection Inc., Promo Line Inc. and Internet Girls Inc., and three individuals associated with those companies, were named in the settlement filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, according to published reports.

A second settlement was released yesterday for public comment and includes Beylen Telecom Ltd. in the Cayman Islands and NiteLine Media Inc. of New York, as well as a NiteLine officials, reports said.

AT&T Corp. and MCI Communications Corp. will be paid by the defendants and then will issue credits to customers and the FTC, which will give refunds to those who have other long-distance carriers.

--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau


New Domain Names plan chugs along

Boston (November 4, 1997) -- A new Internet domain name system moved closer to reality today, as a domain name registrars' group selected a company to function as the system's registry operator.

The Internet Council of Registrars (CORE) has chosen Emergent Corp. to develop and operate its proposed Internet domain name shared registry system.

CORE, which comprises around 90 registrars selected under the interim Policy Oversight Committee's (iPOC's) memorandum of understanding on generic top-level domains, selected Emergent to oversee the proposed Internet domain names, which are .arts, .firm, .info, .nom, .rec, .store and .web.

"This is no longer just talk, it's actually happening," said Ken Rudin, CEO of San Mateo, California-based Emergent.

Under the plan, Emergent will build a registry system to be shared between approved registrars, who currently total around 90 companies worldwide. Registrars would register users for the available domain names of their choice, and could also offer other registry services, such as Web page hosting, Internet access, or round-the-clock registry service, based on what they believe users in their market want. Because the domain name records will be held in a database accessible to all the registrars, users unhappy with a given registrar's performance will be able to change registrars with relative ease, according to Emergent and CORE officials.

The great merit of this system is that it introduces competition into the process, unlike the current system of domain names such as .com and .org, which are administered by the U.S. government through a contract with Network Solutions Inc., according to John Gilmore, president and co-founder of Top Level Registries, one of the CORE registries, which is based in Melbourne, Australia.

"We see this as a much better solution than the options that are currently available," including registering with a monopoly provider or with a specific country, Gilmore said. The system will result in "more clean and consistent policy decisions on who gets what names," he said.

But one analyst said that for businesses, the new system could actually confuse matters, rather than clarify them.

The addition of seven top level domain names could be a problem for many companies who currently have domain names in the .com area, said Martin Marshall, an analyst with Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, California. "This gives seven times the number of possible people to chase after for the infringement of trademarks."

However, CORE's Gilmore said the organization had put in place preemptive mechanisms to obviate that. Those include creating a "challenge panel" to which a company with a globally recognized trademark, such as IBM, could apply to lay claim to that trademark in all of the domains.

But Marshall was not convinced that the challenge panel system and other measures were enough. "There are people who speculate in domain names [and] basically there's going to be a land grab," he said. "It's going to make a field day for the trademark lawyers."

Others objected to what they saw as a grab for power to control the Internet by CORE and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the body which must agree to add CORE's new top level domain names to its root servers in order for them to be functional.

"This is really scary," said Andy Sernovitz, president of the Association for Interactive Media, a Washington, D.C.-based organization which represents Internet service providers, cable and telephone companies, and entertainment studios. "I'm flabbergasted that people aren't more concerned about the risks."

Those risks include building a shared registry, which no one has ever done before, and pushing the system out the door by the first quarter of next year, as CORE plans, Sernovitz said.

"We all agree that there should be more registries but it doesn't have to be this week," Sernovitz said. "If we were talking about any other computer project ... people would be aghast at the thought of these kind of massive changes with no testing."

--Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau

Rockwell unveils plans for one-megabit-per-second modem

San Francisco (October 30, 1997) -- Promising to boost the speed at which home users can connect to the Internet over a standard telephone line, Rockwell Semiconductor Systems Inc. this week unveiled a technology that will allow it to make a one-megabit-per-second (Mbps) digital modem.

Rockwell said its Consumer Digital Subscriber Line (CDSL) modems will be priced much like its conventional V.34 and K56flex analog modems, which start at $50 and $90, respectively.

The device is expected to be available in the first half of 1998, and was designed specifically with the home user in mind, officials said.

Rockwell announced the technology Tuesday to coincide with a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, the body which sets international standards for telecommunications devices such as modems.

By unveiling the technology early in the standards development process Rockwell said it hopes to avoid the kind of standards confusion that dogged the roll out of the current generation of high speed analogue modems, which operate at about 56 Kbps.

The technology is asynchronous, meaning users can only hope to achieve the 1-Mbps transfer rate on the downstream side. But for users who use the product to access information from the Internet or corporate networks, upstream speeds are of less significance, officials said.

Rockwell said it can offer the technology cost effectively because, unlike standard Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) connections, CDSL does not require "splitter" equipment and the associated wiring that phone companies must install at subscribers' homes to separate POTS and ADSL frequencies.

Additionally, the technology will make it possible for users to be on a telephone call at the same time they are connected to the Internet using a single telephone line, officials said.

Rockwell appears to be the first of the big North American modem makers to announce a DSL-based product for home users, but similar announcements from Lucent Technologies Inc. and 3Com Corp. are likely to follow.

"Obviously we're all looking at DSL; you're likely to see something from us pretty soon," said Charlie Hartley, media relations manager at Lucent.

--James Niccolai, IDG News Service


Clinton Administration opposes digital signature legislation

Boston (October 30, 1997) -- The Clinton Administration is sticking with its long-standing policy of allowing the private sector to develop regulations for digital signatures, but some industry leaders and members of the U.S. Congress are urging the government to play a stronger role.

The general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce reiterated President Bill Clinton's position that government should keep the regulation of electronic commerce to a minimum during testimony earlier this week before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Technology.

The Internet's "decentralized nature and its rapid technological evolution" necessitate that the private sector take charge, Andrew Pincus said, according to written transcript of the hearings. "We must avoid the regulatory paradigm that government has often utilized in the past, because that would lock in certain technological approaches and inevitably deter the growth of this new marketplace."

The subcommittee is considering issues related to digital signatures, which code data using electronic bits unique to the individual to whom the code is assigned, much like a written signature. Digital signatures are used in Internet transactions to verify who someone is when they cannot be seen and to make sure that unauthorized changes cannot be made to agreements.

The subcommittee called for testimony because there currently is no uniform standard for digital signatures. While the federal government has been loathe to adopt such a standard, individual states, as well as other nations, have moved forward. As a result, 11 states have widely varying laws and most other states are considering digital signature legislation. Several other nations have also adopted policies regulating digital signatures.

Senator Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, told the subcommittee that he plans to introduce legislation early next year that would set a uniform standard.

"Sending a credit card number or bank account information over an open network is at best unsettling and at worst extremely dangerous, especially if it is impossible to verify the person to whom the message is going," said Bennett, who is chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Services and Technology.

Utah enacted digital signature legislation several years ago that calls for government licensing. The Utah law is based on a legal model developed by the American Bar Association, which stopped short of calling for government licensing.

The use of digital signatures also raises liability questions, when it comes to certifying signatures used in electronic business transactions.

"The United States needs to show leadership by engaging these issues and actively seeking ways to turn these developments away from conflicting rules," said Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington, D.C. law firm.

Baker and others who testified did not, however, advocate a heavy-handed regulatory approach. It seems unlikely that a call for strict measures would pass scrutiny from President Clinton.

"Almost everyone agrees that a top-down regulatory approach would fail to work given the changing dynamics of the industry and the myriad jurisdictions which would have to be covered," says the written hearing charter for the subcommittee, which is part of the House Committee on Science.

Business leaders who testified said that digital signatures and other such issues are going to continue to be pushed by industry, which isn't waiting for government to act.

--Nancy Weil, IDG News Service

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