Esther on .com alternatives in WSJ today

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 26 Aug 1999 13:18:39 -0700

[see the last paragraph... RK]

Can Anyone Organize the Internet? Yes, Icann.

SANTIAGO, Chile-The Internet Corp.
for Assigned Names and Numbers wraps
up its third board meeting here today.
Icann is a private corporation set up to
manage the Internet's "plumbing''-domain names (the .coms and .orgs and, for
international addresses, .uk, .de and so
forth), IP addresses (like, and
the protocols that make the whole thing
work. These tasks once were handled by
private contractors working for the U.S.
government, but Washington called on the
Internet community to create a private
body to take these responsibilities.

At its current meeting, Icann is making
its first decisions that will affect the outside
world (as opposed to its own structure
and bylaws). The decisions concern policies
for the allocation of domain names in
the .com, .net and .org "top level" domains-
for now, the most popular ones.

Our challenge is to find some consensus on
where to draw the line between "abusive"
registrations, in which someone is stealing
the value created by someone else's trademark-
and cases where someone in good
faith has registered a name that may be
someone else's trademark.

It's bad faith when someone with no
rights to a name tries to sell it to someone
with rights, or attempts to steal some other
site's identity by passing itself off as the
original. Good faith would cover a political
site-say, use of
the trademark is free speech rather than a
commercial misappropriation. Uniform
policies and procedures for defining good-faith
and bad-faith uses and resolving disputes
will make the whole system more
predictable and more fair, with clear rules.

Those with trademarks and those without
will know what to expect.

Naturally it's hard to find consensus on
these issues. Some people say there's no
need for Icann; simply let the market take
care of it, or let it "self-organize" as it always
has. The Internet grew organically,
with its own rules. But there are some compelling
reasons we can't simply continue
this way.

First, the old system is no longer working
so smoothly. Like it or not, govern-
ments around the world want to see someone
"in charge." If it can't be a government-
and which government would it
be?-then they want to see a neutral body
with the accountability of a government
but limited powers. Icann has no governmental
powers. Its decisions have to be
based on the consensus of the Internet
community, and we can enforce them only
through contracts with domain name registries,
address registries and the like.

The second reason is that the U.S. government
some years ago assigned responsibility
for registering .com, .net and .org
to a commercial company, Network Solutions.

That contract, which had become
extremely lucrative, expired last year. It
was renewed, but at the same time the
U.S. government decided to turn what had
been a monopoly into a competitive market,
and Icann is overseeing that process.

Moving from monopoly to an open market
is a complicated process, as experience in
the telephone market has taught. In the
long run, the market will work, but making
the transition requires oversight.

Icann is trying to figure out the consensus
of the Internet community on a variety
of other issues. Most visible of these is the
question of new generic top-level domains:

In addition to .com, .net and .org, do we
want .store, .air for airlines or .fin for financial
institutions? That would provide
some competition for .com, and competition
is the best market regulator. But who
would manage these domains? Should
there simply be as many as people care to
create? That still leaves the question of
who gets to run any particular new domain,
some of which may be very popular.
We're still looking for opinions.

At the same time, the current obsession
with the domain name system in general
and with .com in particular is probably a
passing fancy. Within a few years, systems
like RealNames (a technology that
uses plain-language keywords to find Web
sites) and a variety of directory services
will supersede or at least be competing
with the domain name system. Icann's
challenge is to help that happen
smoothly-and not to get so wedded to fixing
the current system that it can't recognize
the value of something better.

Ms. Dyson is president of EDventure
Holdings and interim chairman of Icann.