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Warring Net parties soothed by gov't diplomacy

July 27, 1998
Web posted at: 4:33 PM ET

by Sandra Gittlen

domain names

Geneva (IDG) -- In June the U.S. government released a plan to create an international nonprofit corporation for assigning IP numbers and Internet domain names that was roundly and soundly criticized.

But that was before the feds embarked on their whirlwind world tour to promote the plan and gather advice. With this type of diplomacy, even the formerly feuding Internet Society (ISOC) and Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) have come to the table.

Last weekís Geneva stop is the second in a planned four-stop tour that targets telcos, ISPs, Internet organizations, law firms and global corporations.

The new corporation, which will essentially replace the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, could resemble the IETF when itís done, said Tony Rutkowski, a member of the planning process and former ISOC president.

Much of work is detail-oriented. For instance, the government hopes to nail down a set of bylaws to guide the 15-member nonprofitís interim and standing boards, as well as rules for forming working groups, or "councils," that would usher through number and name assignments. Some rough spots include who will sit on the board and what body the board would answer to.

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This latest stop is to gather information from European Internet interested parties. The week before the feds were in Reston, Va. Next monthís stop in Singapore is for input from Asia-Pacific stakeholders.

Trying to gain global consensus on how the Internet should be managed is a lofty goal. Even more so considering that for the past two years NSI and ISOC have been fighting over domain name system control. Currently, NSI manages the .com, .org, .edu and .net domains under a contract from the government. That contract expires Sept. 30.

Now the two parties are apparently working with the government. Ira Magaziner, co-author of the plan and Clintonís top Internet advisor, is surprised by the cooperation he has seen already. "If you had asked six or even three months ago, I would have been reluctant to predict this kind of change," he said. "People have questioned the process, but itís working OK."

Tamar Frankel, a Boston University law professor called in to consult on the plan, is moderator of the meeting in Geneva. She is using corporate negotiation techniques to keep NSI and ISOC focused on the issues. "If I assume someone is going to do me in, then it becomes important for me to do them in," Frankel said. "But if that assumption is done away with, then I can achieve something." Participants realize they have a unique opportunity to create a corporation that's "a bit of U.N., a bit of multinational corporation and a bit of academia. It has so many cultures," she said." Frankel said the board members need to be interdependent. "If one falls, they all fall," she said. "You have to design the balance of power so no one person has full power. The people at the top arenít making decisions for themselves; they have to do it for the whole Internet."

Dave Brandon, director of new product services at SBC Communications, Inc. in Dallas, is hoping that the discussion will lead to the creation of more top-level domains and better categorization, such as .isp for ISPs and .movie for film companies. He also hopes there will be more ways to register domains and greater resiliency in querying the network name system for domain name lookups.

Corporate clout

The increased involvement by corporations such as Viacom, Inc., IBM and Price Waterhouse surprised other meeting participants.

"The commercialization of the Internet has brought us to this place," said Ellen Rony, author of The Domain Name Handbook. "Our entire economy is moving to the Internet and the risk for companies is huge."

"Businesses see [the domain name battle] as a major problem," said John Curran, chief technology officer at GTE Internetworking in Cambridge, Mass. "They are looking for some certainty in the domain structure."

Companies need to know that they can bring new businesses online and secure them useful domains, he said. "They also want to make sure that their trademark issues are protected."
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