As the Internet Society (ISOC) struggles to keep intact its fraying plan to revamp the Domain Naming System (DNS), some users fear the Internet is headed toward chaos or -- worse yet -- government intervention.
Internet professionals interviewed by US Network World say that unless the global cyberspace community can achieve consensus regarding the much-criticised DNS, the Internet as we know it may cease to exist.
"Government intervention would be the death knell of the Internet as a viable international communications network," says John Servais, marketing director of Network Access Services, an Internet service providerbased in Bellingham, Washington. "We would then see private ones pop up."
But implementation of the ISOC proposal to add seven new top-level domains and an unlimited number of domain name registrars would invite logistical nightmares, he says.
Ironically, ISOC's desire to quickly bring order to the Internet has instead raised the spectre of a Balkanised cyberspace. Since the May 1 signing of a proposal to expand the number of top-level domains and domain name registries:
-- The White House announced it would not immediately endorse the plan, developed by the ISOC-organised International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC).
-- PSINet head William Schrader, a prominent and early backer of the IAHC, blasted ISOC for rushing the process without seeking input from the Internet community. He also said PSINet would not go along with the plan unless he believed it had widespread grassroots support.
"If we don't implement it and a few others don't implement it, then it won't work," says Schrader, who estimates that his ISP controls 15% of the Internet.
-- ISOC president Don Heath said a controversial limit of 28 new domain registries -- and a corresponding lottery -- would be eliminated in the face of criticism, particularly from the European Commission and many would-be registrars.
-- Network Solutions (NSI), the company the National Science Foundation contracted to register the current top-level domains -- including .com, .org and .edu -- threatened to bar the seven new proposed domains from its root servers. NSI, which would lose its monopoly under the IAHC plan, runs three of the 13 primary root servers around the world, which control ISP access to domain names.
Such a move "would be very serious," says IAHC member Dave Crocker. "It could cause a fracture in the Internet Domain Name System."
In urging a delay in the adoption of the IAHC plan, Schrader says panel members have not included the at-large Internet community in discussions because they "were motivated by interests of power and timing."
He is calling for a"global convention to be held in cyberspace, with a high-profile Internet advocate, such as vice-president Al Gore, as moderator."
Heath, for his part, calls PSINet's new stance "very frustrating".
Servais says he prefers that Internet policy be set by a committee of longtime Net users such as the IAHC rather than governments. However, he supports Schrader's call for further consideration of the plan to ensure broad acceptance and make sure details are worked out.
"NSI keeps screwing up so much, the idea of having 18 of these outfits ... How are they going to co-ordinate that?" Servais says. "The idea of expanding this fast is absolutely crazy."
Len Evenchik, vice-president of network services for NetCentric, a software company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says commercialisation has changed the nature of Internet decision-making.
"The Internet was built on what is known as rough consensus," he says. "But it's big business now, so nobody should be surprised by the ferocious discussion that's going on."