European Internet bodies are aghast at the US government's much delayed plans for future administration of the Internet.
The US proposal would hand control of the Internet to a non-profit, private organisation over the next two years, aiming to create more top level domain names and greater input from outside the US.
But the plan, and the new Net address suffixes or top level domains (TLDs), do not follow proposals published last year by two European organisations, the Internet Policy Oversight Committee and the Council of Registrars (Core). These bodies are afraid that vague timescales in the US plan will delay open competition among companies that register Net addresses or domain names.
First steps in the US programme will be taken in April. The move should reflect the Internet's progress from a method of sharing research and knowledge among US academics and military personnel to a medium for communication, information distribution and commerce on an international scale.
The Clinton administration's Commerce Department has issued a long awaited green paper outlining the plans after lengthy consultation between Clinton's Internet policy advisor, Ira Magaziner, and industry representatives.
Five new Internet address suffixes or top level domains (TLDs) will be introduced, according to the paper. It suggested '.vend' and '.store' for commerce and shopping uses but said country code sub-domains, such as '.de' for Germany, will remain if national governments want them.
Sources said '.nom' for individuals and '.arts' for cultural sites are likely additions but the paper does not follow the seven proposed domains suggested by the Geneva-based Council Of Registrars last year.
But analysts at Gartner Group advised companies to register possible future domains worldwide to preclude legal action, consult legal counsel on trademark policy and only sign deals with registrars they see as competitive and viable in the long term.
Gartner also criticised the government for delaying the paper by four months and therefore allowing the '.com' domain to become saturated. It also sees little value in domains too similar to '.com', such as '.firm' and '.shop'. The report admitted the industry is unhappy about the current state of Internet administration. It noted complaints that there is no competition in domain name registration, the numerous lawsuits related to domain names are expensive and cumbersome, more robust management is required for Internet-based commerce and non-US users deserve more say in running the Internet.
"The US government should end its role in the Internet number and name address systems in a responsible manner," the document said. "This means, above all else, ensuring the stability of the Internet. The Internet functions well today but its current technical management is probably not viable over the long term. We should not wait for it to break down before acting."
The paper said the Internet's free and dispersed nature should be maintained in competition yet co-ordinated by the private sector to maximise flexibility and rapid changes.
The approved plan will be issued in April and the non-profit organisation should begin the gradual process assuming control of government functions, such as database management and root system control, from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) on 30 September. The paper proposed a 15-member board for the non-profit drawn from private, public and international communities, but based in the US.
The changes mean the registration of existing TLDs, such as '.com' and '.org' - all contracted to Network Solutions until March - will be open to competition. The paper said experiments would be needed to decide the question of whether one contractor administers each domain - which is simpler but raises monopoly issues - or competing companies administer multiple TLDS.
The contracts will also be split between the registration process and registration database management. Some analysts said there will be little competition until 1999 from other companies for contracts to run a domain registry. Despite the tough criteria set for applying companies in the report, Magaziner said many organisations had shown interest. Most observers agreed the changes are necessary to safeguard the Internet as it becomes a commercial medium which is crucial to businesses.
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