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Friday, 20 April, 2001, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Domain dispute drags on
dotcom, net and org domain names
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

Icann, the organisation that oversees the internet, is coming under fire for the changes it is making to the net's domain names.

US politicians and even some of Icann's own directors are queuing up to criticise a decision that gives almost permanent control of the lucrative .com suffix to one company.

In return, the company getting exclusive rights to the domain is giving up control of the .org and .net domains.

But Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is also facing protests from holders of some .org sites who say its plans for the future of the domain ignore their claims.

Domains for sale

In the days when the net was largely a US-only phenomenon, an organisation called Network Solutions controlled the signing up process for so-called generic top-level domains such as .com, .net, .org, .edu, .mil and .gov.

As the net has developed, the .mil, .gov and .edu domains have been taken over by specialist organisations. Network Solutions has been left with three of the most lucrative net name suffixes.

In March last year, Network Solutions was acquired in a $21bn deal by security company Verisign.

Soon Verisign could only be left looking after one domain as it thrashes out a domain deal with Icann.

The deal gives Verisign control of the .com domain until 2007 and beyond, as a reward for giving up the .org domain. The deal also lets Verisign keep control of the popular .net domain until 2003. After this date Verisign must compete with other firms on who can run the .net registry best.

Net gains

Icann took over the job of co-ordinating the running of the internet from the US Government, but still has to get its decisions ratified by the US Department of Commerce. This department is now scrutinising the deal, and has until 10 May to make its decision.

Last month, Icann's board of directors approved the move in a 12-3 vote. At the time of the vote, Icann board member Karl Auerbach criticised the decision and said the US Government should stop the deal going ahead.

After the votes were counted, Mr Auerbach said: "This was not a win for the internet community. This was a win for some business interests, VeriSign in particular."

Now, the chairmen of three influential House of Representatives committees have written to the Department of Commerce urging it to scrutinise the terms of the deal closely to ensure it is fair and above board.

The fate of the .org domains is being debated. Icann plans to hand control of this suffix to an unnamed company, and insists that anyone owning such a .org domain runs a non-profit organisation. The decision has brought howls of protest from many .org owners who say their long-standing claim to names is being ignored.

Some .org owners have banded together to protest against the decision at the website. Many of those protesting fear they will lose control of their sites if Icann's demands on .org names are enforced.

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