EU demands bigger role in Internet domain initiatives

The European Commission is peeved that a new proposal to revamp Internet domain naming is possibly being imposed on the international community, and it will insist on a greater role in both the reform and eventual distribution of new Internet addresses during a meeting June 26 with the US government, according to a senior Commission official.

The European Commission is peeved that a new proposal to revamp Internet domain naming is possibly being imposed on the international community, and it will insist on a greater role in both the reform and eventual distribution of new Internet addresses during a meeting June 26 with the US government, according to a senior Commission official who asked not to be identified.

The meeting follows an attempt by the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC), a group of largely U.S. companies and associations, to introduce a new scheme which the official claimed "risks turning the Internet on its head."

The International Ad Hoc Committee's (IAHC) plan, supported by about 80 groups of which 57 signed a memorandum of understanding describing the plan last week, adds seven new generic top-level domain names to the Internet's domain naming scheme. It also sets up a system for establishing independent registrars around the world who will allocate the names and compete globally for the registration business.

In a letter sent to the US government on March 26, the EC welcomed many aspects of the IAHC's plan, including its efforts to initiate a global debate on the need to resolve a developing congestion of domain names, according to a copy of the letter obtained by IDG News Service.

But the letter also signals the EC's concerns about many aspects of the IAHC scheme. "The Commission would, however wish to signal its reservations and doubts regarding some other aspects of the IAHC report and to stress the urgent need for a full review of these questions with the Internet organisations and the responsible public authorities including at the international level, before decisions are taken," according to the letter.

The concerns include the fact that although the IAHC made decisions that could effect the way the Internet operates in Europe, there were no European representatives on the IAHC and even delegates from the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union and the World Intellectual Property Organization were from the U.S., the EC official explained.

The Commission was also stunned to find that the IAHC had also recommended allocating registrars for the management of domain names in Western Europe on the basis of a lottery organised by the Internet organizations in the US, the official said.

"We question whether the IAHC or the Internet Society has the authority under U.S. or International Law to do so," the EC wrote.

Both the IAHC report and the upcoming transatlantic talks take place in the context of growing concern in the US about both the scarcity of domain names leading to congestion in ".com" addresses, and allegations that Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) is abusing a dominant position in the distribution of these addresses.

The IAHC proposed a system of 28 registrars in seven world regions to compete with one another in registering Internet addresses. The registrars would share a database managed by a Council of Registrars and WIPO would provide an online dispute settlement and mediation services.

Although Europeans may go along with the recommendations provided they get a bigger say in both the drafting of the details and in their implementation and enforcement, they are not in as much hurry as the US to reform the Internet address system, the Commission official said.

This reflects both the fact that there is no congestion yet due to reliance on second-level domains, and because just as Europe is finally building up its use of the Internet, it is concerned that any change might interfere with its smooth functioning, continued the official.

The EC also stressed the need that any change had to be based on solid legal ground, something it does not believe the IAHC system has, according to the Commission.

"Our concern is that the IAHC does not have the authority, alone, to take such decisions," as are in its proposals to revamp the domain system, the official said.

While admitting that the Commission has been slow to get its act together in this area, the official also hinted that the EC believed that the IAHC had tried to railroad its ideas through the international community.

"We were surprised to learn that just as we had finally sent our position to the U.S. government about the IAHC report, the IAHC had organised a ceremony [in Geneva on May 1] to have signed what the EU thought it had just started to negotiate," the official said.

Although several companies and organizations did sign, the Commission official described the ceremony as "a botched job" because major non-signatories included the EU, its 15-member states and the US government.

Equally important is that the EC insists that in order to ensure a smooth functioning of the Internet any change must be supported by a consensus in the international community, but that this consensus does not yet exist.

"Our main concern is that the international consensus that the IAHC set out to create and which is necessary to sustain a self-governing system like the Internet does not exist," the official said.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's biggest private Internet registry service, NETRegistry, has announced its support for the IAHC initiative.

NETRegistry director Peter Mott says that while he does not agree with the entire IAHC recommendation, but "it is certainly the the best option on the table right now, and we would like to be a part of improving it. Critics of the initiative have some valid points but are unlikely to to bring about change by shouting loudly from the sidelines.

"By becoming a signatory to the initiative, we have a unique opportunity to participate in the growth of the international domain name space."

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