Foreign countries balk at paying Net overseer
$1.35 million to maintain regional Web domains
MARINA DEL REY, Calif. (AP) -- The international agency that oversees
Internet addresses is having trouble collecting on its bills.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which the U.S.
Commerce Department put in charge of overseeing online addresses two years
ago, is trying to charge a fee for maintaining online suffixes for regional
operators within its root servers. Those root servers function as the
master directories of the Internet.
But unease among operators of region-specific suffixes, such as .uk for
the United Kingdom and .to for Tonga, has cast ICANN's future into doubt.
Before ICANN took over, the regional operators got the services free from
the U.S. government.
''Our accounting department has a general policy of refusing to pay bills
from firms with whom we have had no dealings,'' said Eric Gullichsen,
whose company operates Tonga's domain.
The problem has thrown ICANN's budget into doubt. Independent auditors
said there was no evidence ICANN will get the $1.35 million it is counting
on from regional operators.
Regional operators keep lists of domain names registered under their country's
suffixes. For Web browsers to find them, the suffixes must be entered
into a database kept on a root server.
Those root services used to be handled by the U.S. government, but ICANN
is in the process of absorbing the functions. Because ICANN is self-supporting,
it is also looking to those operators for about a third of its operating
costs, now at about $4 million a year.
Some regional operators are questioning whether they are subsidizing tasks
beyond entering names.
Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the Internet Society of New Zealand,
threatened ''to look elsewhere for root service,'' a move that could create
an alternative Internet.
ICANN has clout in determining domain name suffixes and other addressing
matters solely because most computers worldwide now use the 13 root servers
sanctioned by ICANN.
Thrush, who serves on ICANN's country-code administrative committee, said
regional operators would be willing to collectively pay $35,000 to $50,000
for one ICANN staff member to maintain the list of 244 regional suffixes.
ICANN has about 10 staff members.
''Clearly there's a big gap between that fee ... and the $1.35 million
that ICANN is expecting,'' Thursh said.
Some operators have made interim payments on a voluntary basis while they
negotiate formal contracts with ICANN. Andrew McLaughlin, ICANN's chief
policy officer, said progress has been slow.
Mike Roberts, ICANN's chief executive, blamed the regional operators for
being unable to agree among themselves on who should pay how much.
He said countries like Tuvalu, which has the domain name .tv, are marketing
their suffixes worldwide and should be treated like commercial entities.
Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami law professor who follows ICANN,
said that while the organization may have no legal basis for collecting
fees, regional operators may want to pay simply to pry the Internet naming
system from the U.S. government.
But ICANN still has ties to the United States. Although most of ICANN's
board members come from other countries, ICANN still reports to the U.S.
Commerce Department, and its staff members work in Marina del Rey. The
government has no plans to let go until the payment matters are fully
Officials from ICANN have focused recently on reviewing applications for
new domain name suffixes to join .com, .net and .org. The ICANN board
selected seven Thursday: .aero, .biz., .coop, .info, .museum, .name and
Copyright 2000 Associated Press.
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