Internet Board Asks for Help
Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The chairman of an international organization that approved seven new domain names for the Internet defended its procedures on Thursday but also asked Congress for guidance.
Since its creation in 1998 to handle Net addresses, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has pledged to focus on technical matters, but finds those decisions inevitably affect online users more broadly.
After a congressional hearing, the group's chairman, Vinton Cerf, told Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., that ``the concern expressed between policy and technical guidelines colliding with each other is a real problem.''
``I would ask you for some help,'' Cerf said to Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
Cerf did not seek legislation but advice on how Congress and the White House handle similar tensions in other organizations.
Upton said it was too early to discuss a legislative solution.
``We've identified a number of problems that are out there, and we will continue to oversee the effort,'' Upton said.
The subcommittee convened hearings after receiving complaints about a process by Cerf's group that required nonrefundable $50,000 fees simply to submit a proposal for new domain names.
Domain names are key for finding Web sites and sending e-mail. Without them, users would have to remember complicated strings of information to identify specific computers on the Internet.
New names are needed because easy-to-remember addresses have all been taken, particularly in addresses ending in ''.com.'' The problem is comparable to phone companies having to create new area codes to address shortages in phone numbers.
In November, the Internet group selected seven proposals from among 44 completed ones it received: ''.info'' for information, ''.biz'' for businesses, ''.name'' for individuals, ''.pro'' for professionals, ''.museum'' for museums, ''.coop'' for business cooperatives and ''.aero'' for the aviation industry.
The names are to appear in use later this year.
Among the names rejected was ''.xxx'' for adult sites, leading Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., to question whether the group lost ``a great opportunity'' to address online pornography.
``You invite us now to legislatively get involved,'' he said.
But Cerf said his organization could not guarantee that adult sites would actually use .xxx, and parents who find porn elsewhere might decide to sue the organization.
Some critics complained that the cash-strapped group overcharged for reviews. Cerf said the group spent about half the application fees so far â€” or about $1 million â€” and has more expenses as it finalizes contracts and monitors the new names.
Cerf said qualified proposals might have been rejected as a result of subjective criteria, but he said the pool had to be kept small to test whether additions â€” the first major ones since the 1980s â€” would cause problems.
``I think and hope that once we do get results from this first set, we would be able to simplify the process and make it easier for applicants,'' said Cerf, widely regarded as one of the Internet's founders.
Cerf expects a second round of new names, possibly six months after those seven take effect.
Many of the rejected applicants complained that Cerf's group rushed through the selections and used arbitrary criteria; it rejected ''.iii,'' for instance, partly because it was hard to pronounce.
Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami law professor, questioned whether the Commerce Department had the authority to delegate the addressing role to the group.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said Congress needs to be vigilant to prevent the organization from drifting beyond its technical mission and to assume a policy role.
``ICANN has not been giving the authority to assume that function,'' Dingell said, ``and it appears to be accountable to no one except perhaps God almighty.''
On the Net:
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers: http://www.icann.org
House Commerce Committee: http://www.house.gov/commerce