ICANN delays next stage of domain name process

The group overseeing the introduction of a new system for registering Internet domain names last week said it will delay a key step in the proceedings, although it is hopeful the change won't push back the entire effort.

The delay is the latest step in what is turning out to be an excruciating process of introducing competition into the domain registration business, which until now has been managed exclusively by Virginia-based Network Solutions Inc (NSI) under a contract with the US government.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said on Friday it won't announce until April 21 who the five companies will be that will take part in a test phase of the new, competitive system. ICANN is hopeful the 10-day delay won't affect the start of the test-bed trials due to start April 26.

ICANN also said the change won't significantly delay the introduction of competition into the domain name business, although the postponement is symptomatic of the amount of work still to be done if the new registration process is to be introduced on schedule on June 25.

Much of the uncertainty stems from the fact that while NSI is set to become one of the competing Internet domain name registrars, another branch of the company will retain control over the domain name registry, which is the repository for all domain names. In other words, NSI will control access to the technical system that its competitors will need to use in order to compete with it.

According to ICANN, NSI's potential registrar competitors say they can't plan their next move until they know details like the technical requirements to access NSI's registry, and how much it will cost them to do so.

ICANN also said it received a question and answer sheet from NSI on Friday "generally describing the technical requirements for registrars to interact with its . . . registry/registrar interface". The document is posted at http://www.icann.org/. It does not include any pricing information.

NSI has assured the government and its future competitors that it won't use its control of the domain name registry to boost the registrar side of its business. On Friday a spokesman said that any uncertainty in the process isn't the fault of NSI.

"Throughout this process . . . there's been a strict timeline, and we've met or been ahead of meeting every one of the deadlines. We are very anxious to begin competition," said NSI spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy.

"Competition is also contingent on ICANN meeting its deadlines," O'Shaughnessy added, although he stopped short of saying ICANN is responsible for the delay. ICANN officials could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Meanwhile, ICANN said applicants for the testing process have an extra 10 days to submit applications. These must be in by April 8. Applicants who have already submitted accreditation applications may, but don't have to, supplement or replace their original applications.

ICANN is at www.icann.org/

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