Friday, January 30, 1998 Published at 11:44 GMT
Battle lines forming over Net name plans
The US Government is publishing its draft proposals for a new system to control the distribution of names on the Internet.
The Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), a rival international gathering of businesses and interested organisations, has already outlined its own proposals and unless a compromise is hammered out, the Internet could be thrown into chaos.
Every computer on the internet has a unique IP number (one of the numbers associated with this web site is 18.104.22.168.). But an international "domain name" registration system is used so users do not have to remember those numbers.
Those that run the system have absolute control over the names that companies or individuals can use to identify themselves - this ensures that if you type "http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/" you will always come to this site, for example.
Every country has a different way of regulating names given to regional web sites - all sites seeking names ending in .uk, like this one, have to apply to Nominet UK.
What's in a name?
This latest conflict is over the most popular domain names. These are the so-called "top-level domains" that cross national borders - those ending in .com or .org, for example.
There has been considerable conflict over ownership of domain names in the past. Last year, for example, NASA, whose popular web site is at http://www.nasa.gov/, sought to remove a site run by an unrelated commercial organisation at http://www.nasa.com/.
Until now top level domains have been controlled by Network Solutions, an American company contracted to do the work by the US Government agency, the National Science Foundation. But at the end of March, Network Solutions' contract expires and no-one is sure what will happen next.
US suggesting private corporation
The US Government plan is expected to propose establishing a private, non-profit corporation to set basic Internet policies, phasing out government involvement and allowing a limited number of private companies to administer the distribution of names in top-level domains.
It is also expected to approve one or two more top-level domain name options, so two international organizations sharing the same name could do so without conflict - one could end with .com, the other with .firm, say.
CORE's earlier proposal is broadly similar, but would allow for seven additional top-level names, including .nom for personal Internet addresses and .shop for businesses offering goods for purchase.
Some US Government representatives are against the CORE proposal because it would take control of the Internet from the US to an international body based in Geneva.
"American taxpayers, companies, and government built the Internet," said Republican Representative Charles Pickering, Chairman of the House Science sub-committee on Basic Research. "This is something uniquely American."
Whatever the US government decides, however, the CORE group said in early January it would launch its own system on March 1.
If no compromise is reached before then it could lead to chaos as parts of the Internet that choose to be administered by CORE's computers will not be able to see sites whose names are administered using the proposed new American system and vice versa.
There is still plenty of opportunity for further wrangling, however. The US Government's Senior Internet Advisor, Ira Magaziner, has emphasised that the plan is only a first draft.
"We'll have it up for comment, and if it gets completely shot to pieces we'll start over again," he said.