The US government has adopted a laissez faire position about the future management of the internet domain name system (DNS) and has opted to hand over complete responsibility to a non-profit corporation that has yet to be formed. In the long-awaited white paper laying out government policy concerning the management of the DNS released Friday […]
The US government has adopted a laissez faire position about the future management of the internet domain name system (DNS) and has opted to hand over complete responsibility to a non-profit corporation that has yet to be formed. In the long-awaited white paper laying out government policy concerning the management of the DNS released Friday morning, the government withdrew from some earlier proposals it had made in its green paper published in January and repeated most of its other positions. The green paper issued at the end of January was a discussion document, about which the government received about 650 comments. The white paper, which was produced largely by presidential advisor Ira Magaziner and Becky Burr, the senior internet policy advisor at the National Telecommunications and Information Agency, is the final policy statement. The most important issues raised by the paper are as follows. At the center of it all is the establishment of a non-profit corporation that will decide most matters pertaining to the DNS. This was outlined in the green paper and the government has handed off all of its current responsibilities to the corporation. It recommends that it be in place by October 1 this year and it has re-instated its desire to be completely out of the picture by October 1 2000, but would like to withdraw before that. The government has withdrawn its recommendation for the introduction of five new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to go alongside the .com, .net and .org currently available. It now recommends that no new gTLDs be introduced until the non-profit corporation is established. While the government believes the decision should be deferred to the corporation, it believes there should be competition in the registry space as well as the registrar space. The latter is accepted by the internet community, but the former is highly controversial. A registrar allocates secondary-level domains (SLD) in the various TLDs (i.e. the ‘ibm’ in ‘ibm.com’) while a registry is the business that maintains the central database of all the SLDs mapped to the TLDs, ensuring there are no duplicates. At present Network Solutions Inc (NSI) is both the registry and registrar for .com. and .org, of which more later. Many feel that registries should be non-profit organizations because maintaining a central database creates a ‘natural monopoly’ and therefore they should be regulated as public trusts. Others however feel competition generates the most efficient service, which is the way the government is leaning. In the green paper the government attempted to list a minimum set of standards for companies wishing to be registries and registrars. It now feels that should be left to the corporation. The paper says there should be no separation of naming and numbering authorities, rather the corporation should contain separate units that report to the board of directors. The current Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) run by Jon postal at the University of Southern California should not form the basis as such for the corporation, but the expertise of the people at IANA, including Postel, should be exploited by the corporation. On the thorny subject of trademarks, about which the green paper said practically nothing, the white paper does put forward some proposals. The government proposes to approach the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which is based in Geneva, Switzerland to initiate a process to develop a uniform approach to resolving trademark/domain name disputes involving cyberpiracy (as opposed to conflicts between trademark holders with legitimate competing rights), to find a way of protecting famous brand names across all TLDs, such as IBM. General Motors, and so on and finally to evaluate the effects of introducing more gTLDs into the DNS/. It recommends using independent organizations such as the Nation Research Council to conduct such a study. However, disputes between two companies claiming rights to similar domain names should be handled in the regular courts, the government recommends. It says the WIPO-developed mechanism should only be used in cases of cybersquatting and cyberpiracy. The government recommends that domain holders should agree to submit disputes to the jurisdiction of where the A root server is maintained, where the registry database is, or where the registry or registrar themselves are based. This is an attempt by the government to bring some uniformity to rulings in such cases. It also recommends that a database be established containing up-to- date contact and registration information about every domain name. The paper does not really deal with the charge that the process so far has been too US-centric and that the non-profit corporation is likely to mirror that approach, which has got the European Union and Australian governments’ backs up since the green paper. The government views its eventual withdrawal from the proceedings as one indication of its recognition that the internet is global and so should be its management, but that is not likely to appease those outside the US. However, the government says it will continue to consult with foreign entities, including governments. Some of the comments had suggested the corporation be given special immunity from antitrust prosecution, but the government does not feel that will be necessary, especially if the methodology of the corporation mirrors that of a standards- setting body. It suggests that due process requirements are included in the corporation’s originating documents and that there should be no financial or technical barriers to stakeholders having their position heard and considered. It should also not be dominated by any single entity, says the paper. And finally, the somewhat-neglected .us country-specific TLD is to be the subject of further public consultation as the white paper doesn’t really have any concrete proposals as to what to do to encourage its use. The administration seeks more input on the matter.