Playing the domain name game

You had to be there, according to some of those who were. It was history in the making: On one side of the table was Don Heath, president of the Internet Society (ISOC); on the other, Gabe Battista, CEO of Network Solutions (NSI). For almost a year, they have been at the helm of opposing sides of the most vicious battle the Internet has seen. But last week, the two men laid down their swords and attempted to hash out a plan for the future of the 'Net.

You had to be there, according to some of those who were.

It was history in the making: On one side of the table was Don Heath, president of the Internet Society (ISOC); on the other, Gabe Battista, CEO of Network Solutions (NSI). For almost a year, they have been at the helm of opposing sides of the most vicious battle the Internet has seen. But last week, the two men laid down their swords and attempted to hash out a plan for the future of the ‘Net.

“I actually saw convergence this week,” said Dave Holzman, senior vice president of NSI.

“The disparate views worked well together toward a positive solution,” Heath said. “We were encouraged with it.”

The meeting of more than 300 Internet stakeholders, the first of three scheduled over the next few months, was called to figure out a way to implement the loose guidelines put forward in a recent white paper issued by the Clinton administration. These guidelines call for the handing over of the administration of the world's Internet address system to the private sector. Currently, Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, manages .com, .org, .edu and .net as part of a contract with the National Science Foundation. That contract is due to expire on Sept. 30.

The tight deadline could be what is sparking cooperation among enemies. According to one meeting attendee, no one wants to have October roll around and have no plan for how the Internet will segue to its new keeper.

Just who the new keeper of the ‘Net will be is also the subject of as the white paper only specifies that it will be a US-based international non-profit corporation. Other factors, such as who will sit on the board of this corporation, were left open for general agreement.

That agreement is supposed to come from a series of meetings to be held across the globe -- in Geneva, Asia and Los Angeles -- over the next few months.

“It's too premature to come up with anything concrete,” Heath at the ISOC said. “The process will be improving with participation... and that process will arrive at consensus. But for now, we were encouraged with it.”

So much so that Heath agreed to use the ISOC meeting in Geneva to have the second round of process meetings.

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Laying Down Their Arms

Dwell on your similarities, not your differences, Professor Tamar Frankel, a law professor at Boston University told attendees.

But from Ira Magaziner, chief architect of the white paper, the message has been even simpler: Get your act together and decide among yourselves before the government steps in and does it for you.

Magaziner offered all parties, including Internet service providers (ISPs), trademark holders, domain name registries and international corporations, a carrot when he backed off of some of the more detailed plans he had for the domain market. Rather than having the US government decide the specifics of domain name governance, he left the door open for all parties to come to a consensus.

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