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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 12:19 GMT
Name row threatens the net
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European registrars are falling out with Icann
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

A simmering row is threatening to split in two the organisation charged with overseeing the management of the internet.

Icann is asking the agencies that look after country codes such as .uk and .de to contribute to its running costs.

But many of the country code administrators are balking at paying the hefty fees and say they are getting nothing in return.

Now some of the defiant organisations are considering severing ties with Icann, and joining other organisations that already run an alternative list of net names.

Money matters

Icann has been at loggerheads with many of the organisations that look after country codes since July. In a bid to cover its costs, Icann has sent bills to country code registrars saying the payment is for the work Icann does to maintain the 13 root servers dotted around the world that hold the central list of website locations.

But the country code registrars have been refusing to hand over the money without getting guarantees on the service they can expect from Icann in return.

"We are asked to supply 33% of the total funding of Icann, but we do not have sufficient inputs to the budget process or board level representation," said Peter De Blanc of the Virgin Islands registry and one of the spokesmen for the regional registrars.

Instead of paying the bill, many organisations, particularly those that are members of the Council of European National Top-Level Domains (Centr), have made "donations" to Icann.

Icann has further irritated the regional registrars by drafting letters to national governments asking them if they are happy with the competence of the organisations running their country codes.

Renegade regions

The row came to a head at the Icann meeting held in California in mid-November. In one stormy session, Peter De Blanc, together with Peter Dengate Thrush who helps manage the Asian country codes and the UK's Dr Willie Black, outlined three options for resolving the dispute.

"We want a separate support organisation and more meaningful dialog about the costs Icann is imposing," said Dr Black.

The regional registrars want either better representation within Icann, to look after their own country codes within the existing net naming system, or to break away from Icann and set up a separate network of country code root servers.

Next week, European registrars convene at a planned meeting and will start setting up the legal framework for the separate organisation within Icann.

'Nuclear option'

"If Icann does not move then we have to prepare to deal with that situation," said Dr Black.of .uk registry Nominet.

The rogue regional registrars are reportedly even considering setting up shop with some of the companies that look after domains not recognised by Icann. Organisations such as OpenNic, Alternic and Image Online Design already run alternative domain systems.

If the country code registrars broke away, Icann would be left with the generic top level domains such as .com, .net and .org but its claim to represent the net at large would be in tatters.

However, the registrars are not expected to take the "nuclear option" of severing links with Icann. They are thought to have threatened the action in a bid to win concessions and recognition from the Icann board.

Mr De Blanc said: "The World Wide organisation of [country code registrars] is committed to making the consensus-based Icann process work."

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