The future stability of the Internet domain name system is being threatened by obstruction from incumbent registrar, Network Solutions (NSI), the US Congress was told last week.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organisation set up to oversee switching the name system from US government control to a global, consensus-driven system, was forced to defend its attempts to curb NSI's monopoly in a congressional hearing.
The House Commerce Committee held the hearing after a report was issued last month by ICANN interim chairwoman Esther Dyson and interim president Michael Roberts.
The report said: "NSI has to date refused to accept the policy authority of ICANN, although it continues to 'participate' in the creation of ICANN institutions and policies. It has (also) funded and encouraged a variety of ICANN critics."
In addition, legislators heard that ICANN has exhausted its initial funding, raised through donations from networking companies and private donations, and has accumulated about $1 million (£637,000) in debt.
ICANN had proposed charging a $1 (64p) fee per domain registration, but was forced to back down under pressure from Commerce Committee chairman Thomas Bliley, who called the fee a tax.
Several IT professionals who have dealt with NSI also accused it of abusing its position. Phillip Jaenke, a systems administrator at a US ISP, told PC Week: "I used to deal with (NSI) on a daily basis at an ISP that handled some 200+ domains for customers. On a near-weekly basis, one of those domains would be put on hold pending payment."
NSI, he claimed, is forcing ICANN into costly legal defences. "NSI has challenged ICANN's authority, saying that they are above ICANN and can refuse to allow ICANN access to anything whatsoever," he said. "NSI is forcing ICANN to spend what little funding it has on lawyers".
Willie Black, managing director of Nominet, which handles domain name registrations for the .co.uk domain, told PC Week: "NSI is there to benefit shareholders; it is in its interest to preserve its monopoly. ICANN was given an agenda (by the US government) but not enough authority."
Black said this, compounded by NSI's tactics, has left ICANN open to criticism. "NSI has tremendous lobbying power; (politicians) are playing along with, and will be played along by, NSI," he said.
US "political infighting" was one reason why many international organisations involved in the domain dispute "thought ICANN shouldn't have been incorporated in the US," added Black.
"ICANN has to prove itself, show that it can be a benign monopoly and win over other governments," he said. "We are all suffering from the effects of US politics."
NSI to charge upfront
- NSI last week announced that, from September, people wishing to buy into the .com, .org or .net domains that it controls will have to pay up front by credit card.
NSI had previously invoiced applicants and given them 30 days to pay.
NSI said its up-front policy would discourage the practice of "cyber-squatting", in which applicants register domain names to reserve them but never pay up.
Typically, such squatters register trademark or brand names hoping that others will later pay large sums for them as domain names.
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