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Green Paper Response

March 22, 1998

IBM Response to the Green Paper
Docket No. 980212036-8036-01

IBM is pleased to provide comments in response to the above Docket entitled “Improvement of Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses”. The subject of managing the central administrative functions of the Internet is of great importance to the future of the medium and has been of great interest to IBM for some time. We appreciate the effort that NTIA and other Federal agencies, including the NSF, USPTO, OMB, OSTP, DOJ, DOD, and others have put into the development of this Green Paper and commend them for providing a major step forward in the transfer of the management of these functions to the private sector.

As we have noted in an earlier submission, IBM believes that the plan that is proposed in this Docket is fundamentally sound. It provides for the transfer of all of the main administrative functions of the Internet to a new, internationally-oriented, non-profit organization no later than a specific date, and it would enable this new management organization to operate entirely within the private sector. While the plan enters into some details that should probably be left to the governing board of the new management organization (e.g. the qualifications of the CEO) , the plan does recognize the unambiguous authority of the management organization over, among other things, the DNS and all of the root servers. It is important, as the Green Paper notes, that this transition of authority to the private sector be done with the widest possible international support and involvement, and in a way that: ensures the medium’s stability; takes the fullest possible advantage of market forces; and protects legitimate intellectual property rights.

To achieve these goals, several things need to be done under this plan:

First, the successful and effective work done by IANA should be recognized and incorporated fully into the proposed new structure. In many respects, the changes that are needed are structural and not operational in such areas as IP address management, and there should be no interruption of the on-going work of IANA in those areas. Similarly, the very important work of the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC), the Policy Oversight Committee (POC) and the Council of Registrars (CORE) should not be overlooked and should be incorporated as much as possible into this plan. An enormous international effort, for example, was undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to develop guidelines on how trademarks and domain names should co-exist. That work has great value and should be explicitly recognized in this plan.

Second, it is important that this plan be, and be seen as, a global and not a U.S. plan. To that end, the U.S. should actively seek and obtain the support of other countries and relevant international organizations for this approach. At the same time, the expectation that non-U.S. citizens would have unfettered access to the governing bodies envisioned in the plan, and would indeed have major representation on them, needs to be both clarified and emphasized.

Third, a vigorous debate has been underway for about two years over whether it is necessary, or would be wise, to increase the number of global Top Level Domains (gTLD’s). While there is nothing about the successful implementation of this plan that requires that that question be addressed now, we do believe that the period of debate on this question should now end and we should move forward toward implementation. For our part, we have said many times that IBM does not object to a modest increase in the number of gTLD’s; however it is vitally important that any such increase be done in a way that is both very carefully phased and protects legitimate intellectual property rights. There is no reason, in our view, that the plan should not specify an initial goal of new gTLD’s and then permit the new managing organization to implement that goal.

Fourth, the plan sets forth a workable, although hotly contested, formula for the selection of members of the governing body of the new management organization. Much of the debate over the makeup of this body is unfortunate and misplaced, because the plan seems to imply that there will be only one governing body. In fact, while the non-profit management organization needs a single board of directors, there are no good reasons why sub-groups cannot exercise authority over certain areas under the board’s over-all responsibility. This would not only relieve some of the pressure for a “seat on THE board”, but it would also both push decision-making down to those who are closer to the subject matter and probably facilitate the effort to make the undertaking more internationally inclusive. Thus, we believe the plan should provide for one or more subsidiary governing bodies, with specified authority over certain areas of the Internet’s central administration, whose decisions may be overridden by the board of directors, but are not normally subject to its approval. One such group, for example could deal with the unique circumstances that arise in the gTLD area, while another could deal with the circumstances that arise in the country TLD area. Many trusted and valuable private organizations have volunteered to play a leading role in the governance of one or more aspects of this new management organization, and we genuinely need their expertise and involvement.

Fifth, the plan offers passing reference to the unused potential in the “.US” country TLD and invites comment on it. We believe that a significant and early effort is needed within the United States to develop a plan, and create incentives, for the use of the “.US” TLD. Doing so will have many benefits, not the least of which will be to relieve some of the pressure to which the gTLD’s are subjected. This effort should receive a high priority and should not be delayed.

Sixth, the plan’s concept of separate registries that each manages the database that supports one or more gTLD; all of which are equally accessible by any authorized registrar, is fundamentally sound. The management of the database itself is a different function than the registration of a name, and separating these functions permits new opportunities for all of us to enjoy the benefits of competition and market forces. Exactly how that concept is implemented, however, makes an enormous difference to the outcome, particularly given that we begin the process today with essentially one Internet gTLD registrar, which is also the only Internet gTLD registry. A large part of the value of this plan, in the domain name area, turns on the ability of the government to ensure a rapid and smooth transition to the fully competitive, level playing field that is envisioned. Registries must be fully competitive with each other, and for that to occur none should -at least for an initial period of years- exercise any control over, or have ownership of, any registrar. Moreover -again at least for an initial period of years- no registry should administer any more or fewer gTLD’s than any other.

Finally, all registrars should have the same access to all registries. Unfortunately, until a fully market-driven environment evolves, effective competition will require the fairly strict supervision of registries and registrars by both the new management organization, and perhaps by one or more governments. It should be clear to everyone that any registry that abuses its license to administer a gTLD stands to lose that license to someone else who will not abuse the position. All registries should accept this as a condition of their participation in the system. Finally, such active oversight and supervision, particularly at the outset, will consume considerable resources. Over time, as true competition and market forces begin to drive the domain name area, the need for such oversight will diminish and perhaps eventually disappear, however.

Seventh, when faced with so many conflicting interests and voices, there may be a temptation to delay action and spend more time pondering the future of these functions. While we strongly encourage the widest possible of consultation, and believe that the support of other governments is a prerequisite, it is also important that we not delay or lose momentum. To that extent, it may well be necessary for the Department of Commerce and other Federal agencies to dedicate additional short-term resources to the very important task of following through on this plan.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this important initiative and look forward to working with the Administration, the Department, and other involved agencies as you move ahead in this area.