US senators chastise ICANN, NSI

Two US senators yesterday joined in the rancorous chorus over the new Internet governance regime, chastising Network Solutions Inc (NSI) and the Internet Commission for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), in a letter to both contending that they have "unnecessarily complicated" the transition to privatised Internet domain registration.

The letter was sent by Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican and chairman of the US Senate's Antitrust Subcommittee, and Herb Kohl, a member of the subcommittee. They wrote to Esther Dyson, interim chairwoman of ICANN, James Rutt, chief executive officer of NSI, and William Daley, secretary of the US Department of Commerce, which has overseen the current US government domain-registration process and is involved in negotiations to turn the system over to private industry.

NSI has had the government domain registration contract, which some critics contend has created a monopoly. NSI is, in fact, being scrutinised for possible anticompetitive practices by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as well as by the European Commission. ICANN was created to be the new administrative body overseeing the privatized system, ensuring competition and uniform standards.

"We have frankly been disturbed that both Network Solutions Inc and the Internet Commission for Assigned Names and Numbers have been publicly engaged in a bitter dispute regarding the development of the new system for domain name registration," the senators wrote in the letter, made available by DeWine. "The feud has the potential to seriously damage the stability and proper functioning of the Internet, and to disrupt both an enormous amount of electronic commerce and the free flow of ideas."

The letter is the latest twist in what appears to be a worsening political spat between NSI and ICANN.

Last week, U.S. Representative Tom Bliley, wrote to Dyson requesting documents regarding what he called "highly inappropriate" communications between Joe Sims, ICANN's top outside legal counsel and a DOJ official. Dyson responded in a letter yesterday saying that the right to petition government is constitutionally protected in the US, and that it is Sims' job to communicate with government agencies and officials.

In the ongoing saga of dueling letters, DeWine and Kohl noted today that NSI has created its own Internet domain-name directory based on data it compiled as the exclusive domain-name registration company, but has been unwilling to open that database to competitors. Such behavior is contrary to an agreement NSI made with the government and "raises serious questions regarding whether NSI is attempting improperly to use its previous monopoly position to disadvantage competitors," the letter says.

ICANN's behavior has also led to "serious concerns," the letter said, adding that the group has failed to elect a permanent board of directors that represents the Internet community. ICANN only recently began to ensure open meetings of its interim board and unilaterally instituted a $US1 fee on all domain-name registrations. Although that fee was rescinded, such decisions "raised legitimate questions regarding the scope of ICANN's activities," which the senators wrote has got to stay focused on its core role.

The letter urges NSI and ICANN to settle their dispute "in a professional and respectful manner no later than 1 October, so as to avert the threat of a disastrous disruption to the functionality of the Internet." The senators offer their assistance in helping to resolve lingering issues between NSI and ICANN and also encourage the two to seek assistance from the Commerce Department.

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