Originally created 03/01/97

Company files suit against controller of Internet names



SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Breaking a 25-year Internet tradition of consensus, a California company filed suit against the organization that rules over online addresses.

The suit, filed Thursday by Christopher Ambler of Image Online Design Inc., charges that the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority reneged on a deal giving him permission to register Internet addresses ending in .web.

The case pits the notion of the Internet as an international resource subject to the public trust against the right to stake an online claim to commercial activities, according to the two sides.

It's also the first lawsuit filed over something that always had been decided by the famed "rough consensus and running code" of Internet users themselves.

Image Online Design, of San Luis Obispo, Calif., said it was authorized in July by IANA spokesman Bill Manning to register addresses ending in .web at $25 each.

But Ambler said the IANA backed out their deal when a plan was announced earlier this month to revamp the current system for assigning Internet addresses by adding seven new endings, such as .web or .store.

Stuart Levi, attorney for the International Ad Hoc Committee, which proposed the new system, said the proposal hadn't even been written - much less accepted - in July so there were no guidelines yet for how anyone would go about asking for authorization.

Image Online Design began assigning .web addresses in July and now has more than 1,000 customers, Ambler said. But by his own admission, because his registry is not a part of the accepted Net order, only between 0.5 and 10 percent of Internet users can even see them, much as private streets don't always show up on official maps.

Ambler feels he staked his claim to those addresses first and hopes through the suit to force them to appear throughout the Net.

Levi counters that Ambler gambled and lost.

"He did it outside the structure of the Internet on something that is generally labeled as experimental," he said.

Registration is important because the real address of every computer on the Net is its Internet Protocol Address, which looks something like 215.323.31.4. They are assigned by IANA.

To make them easier to remember, those numbers are paired with names through the "domain name" scheme. When a user types "www.nike.com" into their Web browser, the computer checks lists maintained by domain registrars to see what address the name corresponds to.

Originally the Internet started out with six domains - .com, .net, .org, .edu, .mil and .gov for commercial enterprises, networks, non-profits, schools, military and government agencies, respectively.

These were administered by the National Science Foundation, which contracted with Network Solutions, Inc. of Reston, Va. to register addresses and maintain databases in exchange for the right to collect fees.

With the Internet doubling in size every 18 months, useful names were becoming harder to find. The solution was to add more domains and the Ad Hoc Committee - made up of 11 representatives of Internet, legal and other international standards groups - was formed to come up with a plan.

Its proposal not only creates new domains but also opens up domain registration to commercial competition - but within fairly strict guidelines, including a lottery system to chose registrars and rules to ensure they are financially stable and technically capable.

"The Ad Hoc Committee is trying to introduce competition in a controlled manner, so that the Internet continues to functions smoothly," said Jon Postel, director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and one of the plaintiffs named in the suit.