Government launches study of Internet domain names

The US government is funding a study to examine the impact of new technologies and policies on the domain name system as part of a long-term effort to ensure that searching on the Internet not only remains feasible but also improves.

A committee of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) formally launched the study this week in Washington at its first meeting. The study was mandated by Congress about three years ago during a period of heightened concern over protection of copyrights in the domain name system. The CSTB is a unit of the National Research Council, which belongs to the umbrella of organizations represented by the National Academies.

Although the committee is still working on a concise description of the study, Alan Inouye, study director and staff program officer at the National Academies said it would look at many concerns regarding the technical infrastructure of the Internet, particularly its scalability as the number of users and sites grows. The focus is not to resolve immediate problems, but to anticipate issues that are as much as ten years out, Inouye said.

Another issue the study will look at is the number of top level domains that can be added without adversely affecting the technical operations of the Internet. This is an issue that has resulted in criticism of the process used by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to select new generic top-level domains. There currently is not a lot of objective information on this issue available, Inouye said.

The study also aims to assess the effect certain trends will have on Internet name assignment, addressing and searching. These trends include the growth in embedded computing devices and the introduction of permanent personal and object identifiers.

In addition the study will identify emerging technologies that can affect Internet searching. Some approaches that will be considered are the addition of generic top level domains; new name assignment, addressing and indexing schemes; and new directory structures for locating information or sites of interest. The study will also consider improved user interfaces for accessing information on the Internet.

But the founder of one autonomous domain name provider that has been critical of the management of the domain name system says he doesn't expect the study to cover anything his organization considers important.

Robin Bandy, founder of OpenNIC, which is one of at least 15 domain name systems currently operating on the Internet, said there was nothing technically standing in the way of many more top-level domain names existing on the Internet.

"It's been proved that the software can handle millions of domain names. The question is how many can people handle," said Bandy, whose noted that his organization has been described by media observers as an "anticommercial collective."

Bandy said he is happy that the US government is looking at these issues, but that it would be even better if the study encompassed all the issues OpenNIC cared about. He acknowledged, however, that the committee probably wouldn't pay much attention to his marginal community, which manages less than 100 Web sites with TLDs such as .null and .geek. Among the things OpenNIC advocates is the idea that trademarks are largely irrelevant outside of country TLDs because trademark laws are different all over the world.

The US Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation are funding the CSTB committee's study, which is due to be completed in the third quarter of next year. The report will go to Congress, the Department of Commerce and ICANN, whose job is to oversee the domain name system.

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