Domain name group comes under fire again

ICANN, the nonprofit organisation overseeing the introduction of a new system for assigning Internet addresses has come under attack again, in part because it intends to impose a $US1 'tax' on the registration of new Internet addresses.

The nonprofit organisation overseeing the introduction of a new system for assigning Internet addresses has come under attack again, in part because it intends to impose a $US1 "tax" on the registration of new Internet addresses.

The latest criticism came from Tom Bliley, chairman of the US House Committee on Commerce, in a letter sent to Secretary of Commerce William Daley and to the head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is overseeing the birth of the new Internet address system.

Bliley, a Republican from Virginia, also rebuked ICANN on its member selection process, for holding "closed meetings," and for setting "highly regulatory" accreditation requirements for new companies who want to act as registrars selling Internet addresses.

"Rather than promote the Internet's evolution, ICANN's policies actually may jeopardize consumers' abilities to use, enjoy and transact business on the Internet," Bliley wrote. "My committee will be keeping an eye on this situation."

Until a few weeks ago, the system for assigning Internet addresses -- known as domain names -- was managed exclusively by Network Solutions of Herndon, Virginia, under a 1993 contract with the US government. ICANN was set up by the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton to oversee the creation of a new, competitive system in which NSI would be but one participant. On June 7, register.com became NSI's first competitor.

The attack from the Republican-led Committee on Commerce is only the latest aimed at ICANN. Most recently, consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader and the Consumer Project on Technology took aim at ICANN for overstepping its mandate set down by the Clinton administration last year. Nader sent a letter to ICANN earlier this month questioning whether ICANN has overstepped the bounds of its authority on numerous issues.

The Commerce Department couldn't immediately be reached for comment today, and nor could ICANN's interim Chairman Esther Dyson.

But another top ICANN official rejected Bliley's criticisms as nothing new. In a policy statement, the U.S. government has already said that competing registrars would be expected to shoulder part of the cost of introducing the new domain name system, said Mike Roberts, interim president and chief executive officer (CEO) of ICANN.

"The $1 fee has been in the public record of our process for accrediting the registrars since February and discussed at two different open board meetings," Roberts said.

With regard to Bliley's criticism of ICANN's member selection process, Roberts said the Republican Congressman had already raised similar concerns in a letter to Secretary Daley last September.

"The answers to most of his questions are already up on our Web site" at http://www/icann.org/, Roberts said.

Roberts noted the timing of Bliley's letter, which coincides with two high-profile Internet-related events starting today -- The Advisory Committee on Electronic Commerce met in Williamsburg, Virginia, to discuss the future of the Internet and in San Jose, California, the annual Internet Society Conference, which is scheduled to get underway tonight.

Dyson is due to speak at the San Jose event later this week. Other speakers include Francis Gurry, deputy director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization; William Burrington, founder of the Internet Alliance and vice president of global public policy for America Online Inc.; and Eric Benhamou, chairman and CEO of 3Com Corp.

The House Committee on Commerce is on the Internet at http://www.house.gov/commerce/.

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