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Net Address Plan May Shift Control to Nonprofit Group

Technology: Government proposal on domain names raises questions but is seen as a step in repairing existing process.

June 05, 1998|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The Clinton administration is expected to unveil today a plan that will bring sweeping changes to the way Internet addresses are doled out but stops far short of ambitious proposals the White House had previously considered.

Stepping into one of the thorniest issues in cyberspace, the administration is expected to recommend that control over the management and distribution of domain names--online addresses, such as http://www.latimes.com--be shifted from the government to a new, nonprofit organization.

Those familiar with the proposal said it raises as many questions as it answers, chief among them who will serve on the board of this new organization and how they will be selected.

"There are a lot of details to come, to put it mildly," said Chris Clough, a spokesman for Network Solutions Inc., a Herndon, Va., company that, through a 5-year-old government contract, currently has a monopoly on the disbursement of online addresses.

Still, the proposal was widely seen as an important step toward repairing an existing process that has led to trademark disputes, lawsuits and even bidding wars over sought-after addresses.

Officials in the Department of Commerce, the agency responsible for the plan, said late Thursday they were still proofreading the report and declined to comment on it.

But sources familiar with the report said the White House has retreated from some of the more controversial aspects of an earlier draft that has been posted on the Commerce Department's Web site, http://www.ntia.doc.gov, since January.

Initially, for instance, the government proposed creating five new top-level domains to accompany the .com, .gov, .edu, .org and .net suffixes already in use. There is no such recommendation in the final draft, according to those familiar with it.

The administration also appears to have backed away from a plan to create a dispute-resolution process that critics said would have been chaotic.

Now, sources said, the White House appears to have concluded that even though the federal government helped build the Net, oversight is better left to a private organization. Some in the industry applauded the administration's restraint.

"Their recommendations reflect an understanding of the dynamics of the Internet," said Don Heath, chief executive of the Internet Society, a nonprofit group that represents leading companies and universities. "The Net has typically relied on bottom-up decision making, and that's what they're putting in place."

The proposal would overhaul a process put in place long before the Net's popularity exploded. Network Solutions officials said the company has registered more than 2 million domains and that the list grows by 4,000 a day.

The company's exclusive contract expires in September, but executives said they plan to continue to be involved in domain registration, though probably as one of many companies authorized to do so.

The domain name proposal reflects a hands-off approach to Internet matters adopted by the White House last year. Ira Magaziner, the administration's technology policy guru, said at a recent conference that he believes many areas of Internet governance should be handled by separate, nonprofit organizations, such as the one proposed in today's announcement.

The oversight organization's board is expected to be made up of industry executives and prominent members of the academic and technical communities that fostered the Net's growth during the last two decades. White House officials said the board should also have international representatives.

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