Feud Delays New Era in Internet Governance
- By Karen Kaplan
- Jul. 01 1999 00:00
Last Thursday was supposed to have been a milestone day in the evolution of the Internet as a fully self-governing international entity.
Instead, the global information network is laboring under the worst power struggle among administrators in its history.
After three years of work by computer scientists, private businesses and government negotiators, Network Solutions was supposed to relinquish its control of the system for registering Internet addresses, or "domain names,'' ending in .com, .net and .org to a new concern, the nonprofit Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
The idea was to usher in a new era of open competition and self-governance for the global computer network by ending Network Solutions' registration monopoly, which is the result of an exclusive government contract. A number of high-tech luminaries, including Internet guru Esther Dyson, were drafted to join ICANN's initial board of directors in bringing about the reforms.
Instead, the transition has stalled amid accusations that Network Solutions is deliberately trying to prolong its monopoly and that ICANN, which is based in Los Angeles, is really trying to take over the entire Internet. Both Network Solutions and ICANN deny the charges.
At issue in the short term is the price Internet users pay to register and maintain domain names f such as yahoo.com or consumerreports.org f in the three most popular categories. Network Solutions and ICANN have jurisdiction over .com (for commercial establishments), .org (for nonprofit organizations), and .net (for Internet organizations or services).
Network Solutions, which registers domain names and grants applicants exclusive rights to their use the way the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registers trademarks and service marks for companies, has been charging domain holders $35 a year, a price many critics say is exorbitant given the meager overhead necessary.
In the long run, how the current dispute is resolved "will affect your ability to be online, it will affect what [content] gets online, what's regulated, what's not regulated, how free cyberspace is, how stable it is, and how technically efficient it is,'' said Milton Mueller, an associate professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies.
ICANN was set up to supervise the domain name system by accrediting private companies to accept registrations for their internet addresses. Like Network Solutions, the new registrars would charge for their services, but the competition was expected to reduce those fees by half or more. Specialized domain names including those ending in .edu (for educational institutions), .gov (governments) and .mil (military establishments) are not affected, nor are country codes administered by foreign governments, such as those ending in .uk (United Kingdom) and .fr (France).
But so far, only one of the 37 companies that ICANN has accredited to compete with Herndon, Virginia-based Network Solutions is actually doing so. Moreover, the starting date for full competition, originally scheduled for last Thursday, has been pushed back one month.