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Revolt threatens ICANN's budget

11/20/00- Updated 08:40 AM ET

Revolt threatens ICANN's budget

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 resolved.

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 .pro.

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