Icann swamped by Net name chaos

Sub-licencees' impatience puts pressure on Icann to act quickly

The system for registering domains is in danger of descending into chaos as independent registrars are undermining Icann's grip on the current domain name system.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the regulator in charge of Net naming, is being undermined by independent registrars setting up new systems for selling and finding domain names. Icann has added fuel to the dispute by refusing to approve new Net suffixes if the domain has been independently set up.

"There needs to be one unique system of registration. It could become chaotic if independent registrars are allowed to register separate domain names outside of Icann rules," said Peter Stephens, partner at technology law firm Manches.

Icann has ultimate authority in ensuring the selling of domain names is fairly run, and that the domain name servers are run correctly. It is also responsible for expanding the number of domains that can be used on the Web. As current controller of .com, .org and .net suffixes, Icann has additionally picked seven new generic domain name suffixes due to be implemented shortly.

In recent months, companies have accused Icann of dragging its feet over introducing the new suffixes, and so have set up their own alternative and conflicting domain naming systems. Three companies are already offering domain names ending in .xxx -- which is specifically aimed at sex sites. Icann previously abandoned .xxx because of the difficulty in deciding what sort of sites it should cover. Independent registrar Domain Names Systems has independently approached pornography sites to set up and operate a system that only allows adults with credit cards access to Web sites using the .xxx and .sex domains.

It is in the spirit of the Net that Icann has had its role hijacked by other firms, believes Francis Gurry, assistant director general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). "There is a tradition on the Internet for anarchy and pathological independence," he said. "Domain name registration is a business proposition, and so needs to be handled speedily," he added.

Independent registrars are operating under Icann rules, and should be adhering to the remit of their sub-licences says Stephens. "They seem to be stepping outside of their scope of authority as delegated by Icann. This could end up in a free-for-all if independent organisations continue to grant names outside of the remit that Icann has authorised."

It is essential that domain names remain unique, with only one person having the rights to a particular name. "Apart from cases where cybersquatters poach domain names in order to extort money or steal a company's good name, there is the problem of ensuring that legitimate organisations use names that are independent of each other, as trademarks are national and are only limited to goods or services," said Stephens.

"Some authenticity in identity is needed on the Internet so that people are not misled," argued Gurry. Last November, Icann selected seven organisations to operate new top-level domains, but the initial deadline for completing the deals by 2000 has passed. Icann has now finalised draft agreements with the four unsponsored domain operators, managing .biz, .info, .pro and .name.

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