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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Channel Islands balk at 'domain tax'
Graphic BBC
The Channel Islands are fiercely independent
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

A row over the best way to run the internet is threatening to escalate.

Earlier this month, European registrars who look after the lists of websites for country codes such as .uk and .de protested about fees being levied on them by Icann, the net's co-ordinating body.

The row was supposed to be resolved at the Icann conference in Yokohama, Japan, but that meeting ended with no sign of agreement.

Now registrars from the Channel Islands have won backing from their governments for their protests.

Money for nothing

The row is about whether European registrars should pay for the running of Icann.

The registrars say they will pay something towards Icann's upkeep when proper contracts are in place which ensure it does a good job of looking after the root servers.

These servers are like big address books holding details of where domains can be found. Icann looks after the generic .com, .net and .org domain names, but country codes, such as .es for Spain, are looked after by national registrars.

However, Icann has signed no contracts with European country code registrars and given no guarantees about the standards of service they can expect.

Despite this, it has sent invoices to country code registrars asking them to pay towards its running costs.

Without guarantees, European organisations are reluctant to hand over any money and are now debating what action to take. They have condemned the demand for payments as a "domain name tax".

Channel stopper

"We've not got a consensus over the action we should take," said Fay Howard, general manager of the Council of European Top Level Domain Registries (Centr), the industry body that represents the registrars.

Until the row is resolved, Centr is advising members to make a donation to Icann but accompany the cash with a letter saying that this implies no legal contract.

But now registrars in the Channel Islands are taking their protests to a higher level. The governments of the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark have issued a statement supporting the complaints of the islands' registrars.

It said: "Any per-domain levy or 'domain name tax' would be regarded as completely inappropriate."

"It's not about the money," said Nigel Roberts, operations manager for the Channel Islands domain registry. "It's about the process of looking after critical parts of the infrastructure."

The situation was further confused earlier this month when the US Government Accounting Office released a report into Icann.

The report said it was unclear whether the US Department of Commerce had the authority to transfer control of the root servers from Network Solutions to Icann.

If it does not then the US Government will be the one making the decisions on new domain names that are due to be active by the end of the year.

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