Domain-name takeholders float in the calm before the storm

As the US government gathers opinions from Internet stakeholders on who it should endorse to assign domain names, one major contender has tried to sweeten its offer by including other stakeholders on its governing board. That contender, the interim Policy Oversight Committee (POC), is the author of a contested plan to establish a nonprofit Swiss corporation to oversee existing domain names and add seven more, including .firm, .web and .store. The new domain names are scheduled to go live in the first quarter of next year. This week, POC proposed to expand from 12 members to 20 to dilute the domination of its traditional members, who have been technical experts and lawyers, rather than businesspeople or consumers.

As the US government gathers opinions from Internet stakeholders on who it should endorse to assign domain names, one major contender has tried to sweeten its offer by including other stakeholders on its governing board.

Domain names are alphabetic representations of underlying Internet addresses, such as .com or .org.

That contender, the interim Policy Oversight Committee (POC), is the author of a contested plan to establish a nonprofit Swiss corporation to oversee existing domain names and add seven more, including .firm, .web and .store. The new domain names are scheduled to go live in the first quarter of next year.

This week, POC proposed to expand from 12 members to 20 to dilute the domination of its traditional members, who have been technical experts and lawyers, rather than businesspeople or consumers.

POC has proposed adding three members from Internet operators and service providers, two members from business organizations other than operators and service providers, one consumer, and one at-large member in each of three geographic regions: Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific.

"We have consistently said from the beginning ... that the POC would have to be opened up," said David Maher, POC chairman and an attorney in practice in Chicago. "The time had come to do it."

POC has posted its proposal at http://www.gtld-mou.org/txt/notice-97-04.txt/ and will vote based on the feedback early next year, according to Maher.

But another Internet stakeholder said POC's proposal was not a good faith attempt to broaden its leadership. The nine new members of the POC are appointed by members of POC's policy advisory body who by definition support POC, according to Andy Sernovitz, president of the Association for Interactive Media (AIM). AIM represents entertainment studios, cable and phone companies and others and is based in Washington, D.C.

Moreover, POC has called for comments three other times and not made changes as a result of the ensuing feedback, he said.

"They have this process where they deflect criticism by announcing comment," Sernovitz said. "This group has consistently hid their power grab with PR [and] feel-good cover-ups."

Sernovitz will shortly get to express that opinion to the U.S. government, which is exploring who should be responsible for assigning domain names when the contract of the current government-appointed registrar, Network Solutions Inc., expires in March. Ira Magaziner, President Clinton's special advisor on the Internet, has been meeting with stakeholders this week and last, and according to Sernovitz wants to talk to AIM soon.

On Magaziner's schedule tomorrow is a meeting with Barbara Dooley, executive director of the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX), which represents Internet Service Providers, Dooley said.

Dooley declined to comment on POC's proposal to expand its board except to say that their calls for comments are an indication that they do not have widespread industry support. As for CIX's meeting with Magaziner tomorrow, which will not be their first, he praised the adminstration's efforts to get involved in the domain-name issue.

"They've been somewhat passive during this entire process and because the issues are so complex that did not work so well," Dooley said. "The inability of the administration to find some [easy] resolution is some indication that it is not obvious what should be done."

A U.S. Commerce Department spokeswoman said the Clinton administration would release its estimation of the domain-name situtation before Christmas.

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