US Report: Gov't hands domain-name reins to private sector

After nearly a year of intensive deliberations and consultation, The U.S.

After nearly a year of intensive deliberations and consultation, The U.S. Department of Commerce on Friday said it will hand over nearly all major decisions for the next generation of Internet addressing systems to a corporation to be formed by the private sector.

The policy paper abandons a previous proposal to add five new domains to the already familiar .com, .net and .org; and gives private groups the clout to make that and other decisions in the name of all Internet users worldwide.

Beckwith Burr, associate administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said the government made the decision on the basis of hundreds of comments received from Internet users worldwide in response to the Clinton administration's last proposal on Internet names and addresses issued Jan. 30.

"We hope that the private sector can get the new corporation up and running by Oct. 1 of this year, and we expect that the corporation will assume full responsibility for the functions we are now performing by Oct. 1 of the year 2000, at the outside," Burr said.

Under the new plan, a 15-member board comprised of representatives from the private sector will co-ordinate all aspects of domain-name addressing for so-called generic domains such as .com beginning this Autumn. That marks a change from a preliminary "Green Paper" unveiled Jan. 30 in which the administration would have kept most decisions to itself.

According to the paper the board will decide:

  • Which new address types, if any, will be added to the widely used .com, .net and .org. The Jan. 30 proposal would have given that right to the federal government through the two-year transition period.

  • Who may register domains such as under new and already-existing domains.

  • Who will control "registries," or the central databases used to keep track of which domain names belong under domains such as .com. Though the Green Paper had recommended that for-profit companies run registries, most responses recommended against that idea for fear owners could charge monopolistic prices to "registrars" - the groups that actually register domain names such as on behalf of businesses that use them for their online identity.

The proposal also asks the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organisation to study how trademarks and domain names relate to one another and how they may best be protected in cyberspace without infringing upon the rights of individuals who have rights to domain names but don't have the rights to similar trademarks.

Though Network Solutions previously lobbied to continue its monopoly over .com, .net and .org indefinitely, company executives Friday said they were pleased with the plan. They also pledged to co-operate with the government and private sector alike in the transition to an Internet in which dozens of companies may register others under .com, .net and .org, as well as any new domains that might follow.