NSF is tired of the name game

The National Science Foundation has told a congressional subcommittee the agency wants
to get out of overseeing the Internet domain name registration as soon as possible.

NSF and the Commerce Department want the private sector to take full responsibility for
the registration system. Many in Congress agree, but want the administration to provide a
plan for the transition period before the private sector can pick up the task.

Larry Irving, assistant Commerce secretary for communications and information, told the
House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research the administration does not have a plan yet,
but promised to provide a preliminary one by the end of the month.

The General Services Administration is taking over the domain naming authority for
government users that seek addresses with the .gov extension. But who will take over the
remaining naming responsibility is uncertain.

The administration's plan, he said, will draw a general outline. More time will likely
be needed to set a final action plan, Irving said.

Appearing before the House subcommittee last month, Joseph Bordogna, acting deputy NSF
director, said his agency should not be responsible for the domain name system any longer.

"We are getting increasingly worried about having oversight over something that is
really not our statutory responsibility," Bordogna said. "We want to move our
energies to another frontier. NSF is not the proper place to have that oversight."

Bordogna said NSF was well qualified to oversee the project when it started because
many of the domain name users were from the research and education community.

"Today, the vast majority of domain name registrants are commercial interests
whose activities go far beyond the research and education community that NSF is chartered
to serve," he said.

The National Science Foundation, one of the founders of the Internet, signed a
five-year cooperative agreement with Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., in 1993 to
handle domain name registration in the United States [GCN, Aug. 11, Page 6].

Bordogna said NSF wants to cancel the contract when it expires March 31, but will agree
to extend it for only six months as stipulated in the contract to let the administration
work out a sound transition plan. Irving said NSF may have to do that because it is
unlikely that a workable transition plan will be ready before NSI's contract expires.

Answering a question from the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Charles Pickering
(R-Miss.), Irving declined to say whether Commerce would like to be the lead agency in
coordinating the transition.

Instead he called on industry to play a more active role.

"This should be a private sector initiative. We've got to get to that point.
Frankly, I am a little bit concerned about their lack of participation," Irving said.

Irving said Commerce issued a request for comments July 2 on the transition plan. He
said the department has received 430 comments, amounting to 1,500 pages, from around the
world. The comments are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.ntia.doc.gov.

He said the comments support private-sector handling of the domain naming process and
called for opening it to more competition. He also said many of the responses "warned
that continued treatment of the Internet as a U.S. asset could provoke a negative reaction
from foreign governments."

Irving said the U.S. government is working with the Internet Assigned Numbering
Authority, the International Ad Hoc Committee and the World Intellectual Property
Organization to avoid such a conflict.

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