Domain Name Plan Weeks Away, U.S. Commerce Official Says
By JERI CLAUSING
WASHINGTON - The Department of Commerce is developing a plan to oversee
the fragile transition of Internet domain registration from a
government-contracted monopoly to competitive self-regulation, Assistant
Commerce Secretary Larry Irving assured Congress on Thursday.
"We are on the job and we are ready to give you the best job," Irving
said. "We hope to come to you with a comprehensive plan within a month."
Irving spoke before the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research,
which pressed for assurances that the administration is committed to
ensuring a smooth hand-over next year when the National Science Foundation
(NSF) drops its cooperative agreement with Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) for
the registration of generic top-level domains, such as ".net," ".com"
The National Science Foundation and the Clinton administration have made
it clear they want out of the Internet business, but the ensuing
controversy over the plan by the International Internet Ad Hoc Committee
(IAHC) to expand the number of top-level domains and allow unlimited
competing registrars has raised questions about who is really in charge and
whether a lack of oversight will splinter and undermine the stability of
the still very fragile global network.
The Department of Commerce this summer took public comment on the future
of domain registration, but has been hesitant to say how those comments
would be used and what role, if any, the department would play in the
"It is something we are deciding," Irving said after the hearing. "We have
a lot of input from the world, and now we want to sit down and reason
together about what makes sense."
Irving told the committee, in the first of two scheduled meetings on the
issue, that he was not prepared to "pre-judge the final recommendations,"
but that they would likely contain the following elements:
Amendments to the IAHC's memorandum of understanding to reflect concerns
about governance, dispute resolution and trademark that were echoed in the
nearly 500 comments received by the Commerce Department's National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Support for private sector development and testing of technology to
administer a shared, competitive top-level domain registration process.
Commitment by the United States to work with the global Internet community
to establish an independent, self-sufficient policy oversight body.
Irving repeatedly emphasized that the plan would be for the government to
play a temporary, transitional role.
Asked if he was worried about Congress getting involved, Irving said he
thinks the hearings are appropriate.
"I think Congress has a catalyzing effect, especially if you are rushing
deadlines," he said. "It forces you to focus your attention. I don't think
Congress is looking to regulate."
The subcommittee's chairman, Charles Pickering, a Mississippi Republican,
said he called the hearings to clear up questions about exactly when the
NSF will let its contracts with Network Solutions and the Internet Assigned
Numbers Authority (IANA) expire and how the administration plans to prevent
"The subcommittee has been told different dates of when the current
Department of Defense contract with the IANA is expiring. NSF has announced
that it will terminate its current cooperative agreement with NSI at the
end of the March of next year," Pickering said. "Finally, we are unsure of
when the administration is coming forward with a transition plan. The
uncertainty of this sequence of events seems to counter the purpose of
assuring Internet stability.
"We need a transition plan first, and then have contracts expire in a
deliberate step-by-step process that facilitates the transitioning of the
domain names system to the private sector."
Joseph Bordogna, the acting deputy director of the National Science
Foundation, sidestepped questions about exactly when it would cut Network
"The NSF is not going to walk away from its responsibility of oversight,"
he said, noting that it can extend for six months its agreement with
Network Solutions after it expires in March. However, Bordogna emphasized
that the National Science Foundation would like to "transfer oversight to
another governmental entity."
"We want to move our energies to the frontier again," he said. With the
commercialization of the original Internet, the National Science Foundation
is working with other agencies and research institutions on the Next
A committee member James Bacia, a Michigan Democrat, said the committee
wants to make sure the transition is handled responsibly, not just quickly.
Gabriel A. Battista, Network Solutions' president, echoed those sentiments.
"As the founder of the Internet, and its largest user, the U.S. government
has the responsibility, and the right, to shepherd this process forward,"
he said. "We believe the best hope for transition lies with Department of
The other witness called Thursday was John Postel, one of the Internet's
founders and head of IANA, which assigns the numbers that give Internet
addresses a place on its root servers.
Postel emphasized caution in any government role, saying the IAHC plan "is
moving well." As long as the plan seems to be on track, he said,
"government should be concerned, but not get involved."
But the plan has come under fire by Network Solutions and others in the
private sector who claim the planning process was closed.
Irving said many of those criticizing IAHC, however, have not tried to get
"The private sector has to step up to the plate in this process," he said.
"I think hearings like this today will help focus on that."
The subcommittee continues the domain hearings Tuesday, with testimony
from Anthony M. Rutkowski, director of the Internetworking Alliance; Andy
Sernovitz, president of the Association for Interactive Media; Donald
Heath, president of the Internet Society, and Barbara Dooley, executive
director of the Commercial Internet Exchange.
Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
-Toa Te Ching