Internet-naming budget battle breaks out

By Nancy Dillon, Computer World |  Business

Efforts to privatize management of the Internet's domain name system may be stymied
by a new battle between the House Commerce Committee and the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

ICANN recently announced its plan to generate funds via domain name registration
fees of up to $1 per name per year. But yesterday, Commerce Committee Chairman Tom
Bliley launched an investigation into the authority of ICANN's current board to set
such "far-reaching" Internet policy.

ICANN was created after President Clinton directed the Secretary of Commerce to
privatize the domain name system in a manner that increases competition and facilitates
international participation. Since last November, ICANN has assumed responsibility for
coordinating the assignment of protocol parameters, the management of the domain name
system and root server systems and the allocation of IP address space.

A Bliley blast

In a June 22 letter to ICANN's Interim Chairman Esther Dyson, Bliley blasted the
ICANN board for proposing the $1 domain name registration fee.

"I am greatly concerned about the interim board's imposition of a $1 per domain
registration fee, the funding of a rather large [$5.9 million] ICANN budget through
such a fee and the setting of highly regulatory accreditation requirements for those
who wish to offer domain name registration services," Bliley said in his letter.

"Rather than promote the Internet's evolution, [ICANN's] policies actually may
jeopardize the continued stability of the underlying systems that permit millions of
people to use, enjoy and transact business on the Internet," the letter continued.

Bliley noted in his letter that ICANN's current board is an interim, unelected board
that conducts portions of its official meetings in private. He questioned the board's
legal ability to set policy precedence considering that ICANN's Memorandum of
Understanding with the Department of Commerce directs the interim board to replace
itself with an elected board no later than Sept. 30, 2000.

Questionable justification

ICANN officials couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. But in a letter sent to
the Department of Commerce dated June 15, 1999, ICANN quotes the Commerce Department's
own white paper on privatization as saying that "the new corporation could be funded by
domain name registries, regional IP registries or other entities identified by the
board." Sources said the white paper in question, released last June, has so far acted
as the most widely accepted blueprint for defining ICANN's role in the domain name
system transition.

But, according to one staff source at the Department of Commerce who requested
anonymity, this excerpted quote does not give ICANN the authority to set up any fees.

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