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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Net body stamps on critics
Fighting over internet names BBC
The wrangle over who runs the net is rumbling on
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

The row over who runs the internet is hotting up.

This week the net's ruling body re-asserted its existing policy for managing and creating domain names on the world wide web.

It issued a stark warning to those organisations offering alternative domain names that sit outside the net's centrally organised name system.

But critics have questioned the policy statement and say the net's administrators should consult more widely before handing down judgement.

Domain dilemma

Currently only the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) is supposed to select new domain names and decide which organisations should run them.

Icann is the organisation charged with overseeing the running of the net and also has the job of running the computers that act as the address books for domain names.

New domains
.info
.biz
.name
.pro
.museum
.aero
.co-op
In November last year, Icann started the process of selecting new so-called generic domain names to add to the existing .com, .net and .org names. These domains are called "generic" because they are not tied to one geographic area.

The first two new generic domain names to go live will be .biz and .info. The .name domain should follow soon after.

But the slow pace of new domain name approvals has led many other organisations to start selling alternative domain systems. Speculators have moved to snap up potentially popular domains such as toy.shop in the hope that one day they will be officially approved and become much more valuable.

Policy paper

But this week Icann re-asserted its dominance over the domain name system, and issued a warning to the sellers of alternative domains.

The policy document reasserted the importance of a single authoritative source, or root, for domain names and said the technical advantages of this centralised system outweighed demands to open it up. The fact that everyone on the net can find domain names using this system was key, said the policy paper.

In recent weeks, this centralised control has come under concerted attack from organisations such as New.net, which offers 30 domains that are sold and administered outside Icann's control.

Web users can only visit sites bearing these names if the net service provider they use has signed up with New.net and can redirect requests for them away from Icann's directories. Others have to download an add-on program for their browser to visit the sites.

New.net has called on Icann to recognise organisations with lots of users signed up to alternative domains, such as itself, and add the names they run to the authoritative system.

Disputing domains

But in comments supporting the distribution of the policy paper, Icann president M. Stuart Lynn said he was unconvinced by New.net's arguments to share or split the domain name directories.

"I find the basic New.net premise regarding stability not only to be a poorly argued and technically unsupported premise," he said, "but one which consumers, businesses, researchers, and others would find harmful and confusing if put into large-scale practice."

Confusion is already arising. New.net offers people the chance to own a domain ending .shop as do three other companies - Domainisland, Suncare and Namespace.

And other companies, such as CentralNic, are trying to add domains by getting more out of the existing system and offering names like uk.com and us.com.

Joe Alagna, a spokesman for CentralNic, said there was a real possibility that lots of people would think they owned a particular domain when in fact they did not.

"It's a scary situation for domain registrants," he said.

Icann critics said the policy paper had been dreamed up to quell criticism and had not been ratified by members of the body. In response Icann said members did not need to be consulted because the paper was only re-iterating existing practices.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Name row threatens the net
19 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Money for nothing
19 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Novel net domains court controversy
02 Apr 01 | Business
Net body agrees registration rule
10 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Net name chaos grows
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