Those familiar with the Clinton administration's Web domain privatisation plan, to be announced today, say many crucial details - such as who will be in charge of the Net administration body, and provisions for dispute resolution and distribution of Internet Protocol addresses - will likely be left for the industry to decide.
The finalised plan marks the completion of a year-long initiative by the government to turn control of Internet administration - which includes addressing, registration and conflict-resolution services - over to the private sector.
At stake is the system for doling out and maintaining the names and numbers that identify Web pages, servers, PCs and other devices on the Internet. That includes the Domain Name System, with names such as www.ants.com, but also the more arcane systems of numbers used in systems such as Internet Protocol, File Transfer Protocol and others.
While the Net has functioned well with government involvement, a poorly designed private-sector organisation could hamper the Internet's ability to grow and develop efficiently.
A preliminary plan issued in January - which called for creation of a private organisation to oversee all registration and addressing issues - has been roundly debated, largely because the industry sees this turnover as an opportunity to improve Internet administration.
Nevertheless, Friday's final plan is not expected to differ materially from January's "Green Paper". The tricky details will probably be left to be hashed out by those with a stake in the process.
A cross section of industry organisations are coming together at the end of June to do just that, tentatively calling itself the Workshop on the Internet Assigned Numbers Corporation.
Among the topics they will likely face:
- What kind of organisation will the Internet administration body be?
- How will international interests be represented within the organisation?
- What resources will there be for resolving disputes, including trademark infringement cases?
- How will the organisation dole out IP addresses, for which there is a serious shortage?
- Will the organisation create new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) to accompany .com, .org and .net?
Some Internet experts say the government is best off turning the most crucial decisions over to the industry that will be affected by them, rather than trying to retain a firm grip on a business it does not really understand.
Others criticised the Clinton administration for giving up control of a system that was, after all, created with government funding.
"The government is anxious to get out of the business. The question then becomes, what kind of mechanism can you have for the industry basically managing its own affairs?" said Tony Rutkowski, a consultant who has served on numerous Internet-related government advisory panels.
"And ultimately, who bears all the responsibility and liabilities? To be sure, there's going to be disputes... and this creature is going to have to deal with that environment."
The "white paper" due on Friday was delayed for months while the government ironed out potential legal snarls and built up support in foreign countries. Representatives of the European Union and Canada were critical of the first plan as being too U.S.-centric.
Once the plan is unveiled, it will be put into action quickly. The Department of Commerce wants to have the new administration system working by September, when current contracts for registration services are due to expire.