Testimony of Becky Burr before the House Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection

Topics/Subtopics: 
June 10, 1998

Testimony of J. Beckwith Burr
Associate Administrator of the
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
for International Affairs, U.S. Department of Commerce
before the House Committee on Commerce
Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection
on the Future of the Domain Name System

June 10, 1998

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and members of the Subcommittee, for inviting me to testify on the future of the Internet domain name system (DNS) and issues surrounding its management. Last week, the Department of Commerce released Management of Internet Names and Addresses, the Administration's statement of policy on privatizing the management of the DNS. Attached to my testimony is a copy of the policy statement that has been issued and that will appear in the Federal Register this week.

No single force embodies the electronic transformation we are experiencing today more than the evolving medium known as the Internet. From its roots as a federal network, once reserved for scientific and academic exchange, the Internet has emerged as an appliance of everyday life, accessible from almost every point on the planet. In recent years, commercial use and privatization of the Internet has expanded rapidly and has ushered in countless new, innovative and efficient technologies and services, bringing us closer to realizing of the full potential of the Internet.

As a legacy, however, major components of the domain name system are still performed by, or subject to, agreements with agencies of the U.S. Government.

Last summer, President Clinton issued A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, that articulated the Administration's vision for the emergence of the global electronic marketplace. The Framework sets out a number of principles ­ of which private sector leadership is preeminent - to guide our approach to a number of important policy issues. In keeping with those principles, President Clinton directed the Secretary of Commerce to work to privatize, increase competition in, and promote international participation in the domain name system. Accordingly, on July 2, 1997, NTIA issued a Request for Comments (RFC) on DNS administration. Over 450 comments were received, amounting to some 1500 pages.

With this input, the Department of Commerce published for public comment a proposed rule, entitled A Proposal to Improve the Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses, regarding the domain name registration system on January 30, 1998. The "Green Paper," as it is frequently called, proposed that certain DNS functions should be coordinated:

1) the management of the Internet IP numbering system;

2) the coordination and management of the Internet root servers;

3) the allocation and management of generic top level domains (gTLDs) and;

4) the dissemination protocol parameters for Internet addressing.

To manage these functions, the Green Paper proposed the creation, by the private sector, of a new private, not-for-profit corporation (new corporation) that would act for the benefit of the Internet as a whole. Based on broad consultation with Internet stakeholders, the Green Paper proposed that the new corporation should be operated on the following principles:

1) Stability ­ The U.S. Government should end its stewardship of the DNS in a responsible manner, which above all else, means ensuring the stability of the Internet;

2) Competition ­ Where possible, market mechanisms that support competition should drive DNS management;

3) Private, Bottom-up Coordination ­ Private-sector coordination of DNS management is preferable to government control; and

4) Representation ­ Technical management of the Internet should reflect a diversity of Internet users both functionally and geographically.

The U.S. Government would gradually transfer the responsibilities for DNS management to this new organization.

Noting that the creation and stabilization of the new corporation by the private sector would likely take some time, the Green Paper contemplated that, during the transition to private sector management, the U.S. Government would take certain steps -- including the addition of up to five new gTLDs into the domain name system ­ to enhance competition in domain name registration in the short term.

Over 650 comments, amounting to some 2000 pages, were received in response to the proposed rule. The comments revealed overwhelming, nearly consensus, support for the creation of a new, private not-for-profit corporation to manage DNS and confirmed our belief that the four DNS functions proposed in the Green Paper should be coordinated. Further, the comments confirmed that the U.S. Government and the new corporation should be guided by the principles we proposed for the transition to private sector management.

On June 5, 1998 in light of the public comments received as well as the continued rapid technological development of the Internet, NTIA released Management of Internet Names and Addresses, a policy statement that outlines the Administration's policy regarding privatization of the domain name system in a manner that allows for the development of robust competition and that facilitates global participation in the management of Internet names and addresses. The policy statement ­ which I am submitting today for the record -- affirms many of the proposals described in the Green Paper.

The Administration maintains that a globally and functionally representative organization, operated on the basis of sound and transparent processes that protect against capture by self-interested factions, and that provides robust, professional management will provide the most responsive and procedurally sound structure for private sector decision making on DNS management. As described in the policy statement, the new entity's processes need to be fair, open, and pro-competitive. And the new entity needs to have a mechanism for evolving to reflect changes in the constituency of Internet stakeholders.

We are prepared to recognize, by entering into agreements or understandings with, an entity with the characteristics described in the policy statement to administer policy for the Internet name and address system. Under such agreements or understandings, the new corporation would undertake various responsibilities for the administration of the domain name system now performed by or on behalf of the U.S. Government or by third parties under arrangements or agreements with the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government would also ensure that the new corporation has appropriate access to needed databases and software developed under those agreements.

I would like to emphasize that the policy statement does NOT propose a monolithic structure for Internet governance or propose the creation of a federally chartered corporation to manage DNS.

Rather, we seek a stable process to address the narrow issues of management of administration of Internet names and numbers on an ongoing basis and we invite private sector Internet stakeholders ­ both U.S. and non-U.S. based ­ to work together to form this new organization.

The policy statement is really about the process by which this new entity would make decisions on DNS management, rather than the ultimate decisions to be made. The comments evidenced very strong support for limiting government involvement during the transition period on substantive matters such as adding new gTLDs or establishing technical or operational requirements for domain name registries and registrars. The vast majority of commenters that suggested it would be more appropriate for the new, private organization ­ not government -- to decide these issues once it is up and running.

And we agree with those commenters.

Accordingly, we are prepared to defer substantive DNS management decisions ­ including the decisions regarding addition of new gTLDs ­ to the new entity.

The Administration hopes that the private sector can get the new corporation up and running by October 1 of this year, and we expect by October 1 of the year 2000 at the outside, the new corporation will assume full responsibility for the functions the U.S. Government currently performs.

We recognize that this timetable is aggressive. But the vast majority of the comments we received on the Green Paper said "let the private sector lead." The Administration is stepping up to this challenge. We expect the private sector to step up to the challenge of leadership as well.

Obviously, the process will not end with the issuance of this policy statement. The hard part is just beginning, in fact. The Department of Commerce stands ready to facilitate this process in all possible ways. We expect to consult widely with the Internet community as well as with members of the international community as we prepare to enter into the agreements or understandings needed for the new corporation to take up the DNS functions the U.S. Government currently manages.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I will be happy to answer any questions you have at this time.