Infighting over the introduction of a competitive system for registering internet addresses has hit a new high. Internet address provider Network Solutions Inc (NSI) is crying foul over a decision that reduces its influence on policy matters related to the new domain name system.
The controversy centres on a group called the Names Council, which is made up of representatives from seven groups that have an interest in domain name policy. Interested parties include ISPs (internet service providers), trademark specialists and domain name registries, which are the companies and organisations that control the software and information needed to assign Net addresses.
Each of the groups gets to elect three representatives to the Names Council, which in turn advises the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on policy matters related to the corporation's supervision of the introduction of the new domain name registration.
Because NSI is the only registry for the .com, .net and .org generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the company holds all three seats on the Names Council assigned to gTLD registries. Other companies are acting as registrars, or distributors of internet addresses, but NSI is the only gTLD registry, or entity that controls the databases used to allocate the addresses.
Therein lies the rub.
Mike Roberts, interim president and chief executive officer of ICANN, said the "internet community" feels that for NSI to have three seats on the 21-member Names Council gives it too much influence over domain name policy matters.
Clive Flory, general manager of test bed domain name registrar Internet Names Worldwide, a subsidiary of Melbourne IT, agreed with Roberts.
Flory told Computerworld that it was a "very strong principle of the internet community that no single body should be allowed to 'capture' the internet", and that therefore no organisation should have more than one seat on the Names Council.
That principle had permeated all discussions and debates at the ICANN meeting he attended in Berlin, in May 1999, Flory said.
The issue of NSI's influence over domain name policy is particularly sensitive at a time when the company is yielding its government-appointed monopoly over domain name registration to competitors, observers noted.
To address the concerns, ICANN's board voted last week to change its bylaws so that no single company can have more than one representative on the Names Council. This decision will cut NSI's representation on the 21-member Names Council from three to one, effective immediately, Roberts said.
ICANN said its decision represents the will of the internet community, as voiced by attendees at a recent public meeting in Bern, Switzerland. The nonprofit group also posted its intention to cut back NSI's representation on the Names Council on its Web site a month ago, allowing interested parties to comment.
NSI officials said it is unhappy with the decision. The company doesn't feel that the views expressed at the Bern meeting and on ICANN's Web site are representative of the community at large, said NSI spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy.
"If they consider a handful of people who responded to their Web site and a few outspoken people at Bern a consensus of the millions of people using the internet, then they have a different definition of 'consensus'," O'Shaughnessy said.
ICANN's Roberts stood his ground.
"If you ask most people outside of NSI's circle about this, they'll agree (ICANN) did the right thing," Roberts said.
The spat is only the latest in a string of public disagreements between ICANN and NSI.
ICANN has accused NSI of dragging its feet in providing access to its registry databases so that competition can move forward, while NSI, joined by a few vocal politicians, say ICANN is not going about its work in a fair manner.
In the meantime, competition is inching ahead despite the disagreements. In a separate announcement, ICANN said it has given accreditation to seven more registrars to take part in a test-bed phase of the new domain registration system. This brings to 64 the total number of accredited registrars who will be able to offer domain name registration services.
The testing period has been extended for a third time, and is now expected to conclude September 10. Meanwhile, four companies have already begun offering registration services to the public for the gTLDs: the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), France Telecom SA subsidiary Oleane, register.com, and Melbourne IT. America Online is selling internet addresses just to members of its CompuServe access service.
Flory welcomed the extension of the testing period, saying it was necessary to ensure that the domain registration system was robust and could handle increasing competition amongst registrars.