ICANN
Testbed Registrar Announcement: Questions and Answers
Posted April 21, 1999

Q: How are domain names currently registered?

A: Currently, Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) (http://www.networksolutions.com), registers all domain names in the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains under a 1993 Cooperative Agreement (http://www.networksolutions.com/nsf/agreement/agreement.html) with the U.S. Government. Under the Agreement, the charge for an initial, two-year registration is fixed at $70, while the fee for a one-year renewal is set at $35. Many people use consultants they select or resellers selected by NSI (see http://www.netsol.com/partners) to assist them in registering domain names with NSI for an additional fee.
 

Q: Why is the current system for registering domain names being changed?

A: For several years, there has been widespread dissatisfaction in the Internet community with the absence of competition in the market for domain-name registration services. In June 1998, the U.S. Government issued a revised statement of policy known as the "White Paper" (http://www.icann.org/general/white-paper-05jun98.htm). In this statement, the Government proposed introducing competition in the provision of domain-name registration services, with continued stability of the Internet achieved through technical coordination under the auspices of a private, non-profit corporation reflecting the views of Internet stakeholders.
 

Q: What has the U.S. Government done to follow through on its proposal?

A: In October 1998, the U.S. Government and NSI agreed to amend the existing Cooperative Agreement (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/docnsi100698.htm) to extend NSIís operation of the registry for the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains through September 30, 2000, and to require NSI to give competitive registrars access to the registry. Competitive access is to be introduced in three phases, beginning with a testbed (phase 1).
 

Q. What is the purpose of the testbed?

A: During the testbed, five competitive registrars will be allowed direct access to register domain names in the registry operated by NSI. The testbed is intended to work out any technical difficulties before additional registrars are included, so that vigorous competition can be introduced without endangering the stability of the domain-name system.
 

Q: Will the testbed registrars actually be able to register domain names for customers during the testbed, or will they simply be working out the bugs in the system?

A: During the testbed phase, the testbed participants will actually register domain names for customers.
 

Q: Will NSI continue to register domain names from the public during the testbed?

A: Yes. During the testbed domain names may be registered either with NSI at the legacy prices established by its Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Government ($70 for initial two-year registration, $35 for one-year renewal) or with any of the five testbed registrars at competitive prices.
 

Q: When will the testbed start?

A: The testbed officially starts on April 26. Because the testbed participants need some time to prepare the interfaces between their computers and NSIís, we expect that competitive registrars will actually begin registering domain names in the registry in early May.
 

Q. When will it end?

A: The testbed phase is scheduled to last for two months, through June 24, 1999 (see Amendment 11 to the Cooperative Agreement between the U.S. Government and NSI -- http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/docnsi100698.htm).
 

Q: Who decided which five registrars would participate in the testbed?

A: Amendment 11 to the Cooperative Agreement between NSI and the U.S. Government (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/docnsi100698.htm), specified that the five testbed participants would be accredited by the non-profit corporation described in the White Paper, then known as "NewCo." The non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was subsequently selected to fill the role of providing technical coordination of the Internet based on the views of Internet stakeholders (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/icannnewco.htm), and ICANN selected the testbed registrars.
 

Q: How were these companies chosen for the testbed?

A: On February 8, 1999, ICANN published proposed guidelines for accrediting registrars (http://www.icann.org/draftguidelines.html). After receiving extensive public comment from the Internet community, the ICANN Board of Directors adopted a Statement of Registrar Accreditation Policy (revised in view of the comments) at its meeting in Singapore on March 4, 1999 (http://www.icann.org/registrars/policy_statement.html). In accordance with that policy, applications for accreditation were accepted through April 8. After reviewing and evaluating the applications, ICANN selected the five testbed participants.
 

Q: Who are the testbed participants?

A: The five testbed participants are, in alphabetical order:

  • America Online (http://www.aol.com)
  • CORE (Internet Council of Registrars) (http://www.corenic.org)
  • France Telecom/Oléane (http://www.francetelecom.fr; http://www.oleane.net)
  • Melbourne IT (http://www.melbourneit.com.au)
  • register.com (http://www.register.com)

  •  

    Q: Why were these companies chosen for the testbed?

    A: ICANN selected the five testbed registrars based on the criteria set forth in the Statement of Registrar Accreditation Policy (http://www.icann.org/registrars/policy_statement.html#IV). First, ICANN identified those companies that best demonstrated the technical and business capabilities to support the testbed phase and a willingness to commit sufficient resources to ensure a successful test. Many applicants met this basic requirement, so a group of companies was selected that, taken together, represents a diversity in geographic reach, language capabilities, and business models.
     

    Q: Why only five?

    A: Amendment 11 to the Cooperative Agreement between NSI and the U.S. Government provides for five participants in the testbed phase.
     

    Q: How much do the testbed registrars have to pay to participate in the testbed?

    A: Testbed applicants have paid a $2,500 application fee to ICANN. Once accredited, all registrars will pay a $5,000 annual accreditation fee to ICANN and a one-time $10,000 fee to license software from NSI. During the testbed, NSI will charge registrars a fee of $9 per registration-year for new and renewal registrations they insert into the registry.
     

    Q: How many companies applied for testbed accreditation?

    A: ICANN received 31 applications to participate in the testbed phase. In general, these applicants are highly qualified to act as registrars and the large number of applications, as well as the applicantsí enthusiasm, suggests that there will soon be robust competition among registrars in these top-level domains.
     

    Q: What has happened to the other 26 applications?

    A: ICANN evaluated them to determine whether the applicants should be accredited as registrars in the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains following completion of the testbed. ICANN has determined that all of them have the qualifications to be accredited and, upon entering accreditation agreements with ICANN, they will be accredited to begin competing in the post-testbed phase, currently scheduled to begin June 26.
     

    Q: After the testbed, will there be a limit on the number of accredited registrars?

    A: No. In the post-testbed phase, any company accredited by ICANN according to its published criteria will be able to compete as a registrar in the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains.
     

    Q: In addition the these 26 applicants not selected for the testbed, have others applied to be registrars after the testbed phase?

    A: Yes, ICANN is continuing to receive several applications for accreditation each week. So far, ICANN has completed processing three of these applications and has determined that these applicants, as well, have the appropriate qualifications and will be accredited, upon entering accreditation agreements, to begin competing at the end of the testbed. Thus, at least 29 accredited registrars will join the original five in competing once the testbed phase is complete.
     

    Q: Who are these 29 registrars that will begin competing on June 26?

    A:

  • 9NetAvenue (United States)
  • A Technology Company (Canada)
  • Active ISP (Norway)
  • Alldomains.com (United States)
  • All West Communications (United States)
  • American Domain Name Registry (United States)
  • AT&T (United States)
  • Domain Direct (Canada)
  • DomainRegistry.com (United States)
  • eNom, Inc. (United States)
  • InfoAvenue (United States)
  • InfoNetworks (United Kingdom/United States)
  • InfoRamp (United States)
  • Interactive Telecom Network (United States)
  • Interdomain (Spain)
  • Internet Domain Registrars (Canada)
  • interQ Incorporated (Japan)
  • MS Intergate (United States)
  • NameSecure.com (United States)
  • Name.Space Inc. (United States)
  • NetBenefit (United Kingdom)
  • NetNames (United Kingdom)
  • Nominalia (Catalonia)
  • Port Information System AB (Sweden)
  • RCN (United States)
  • Telepartner AS (Denmark)
  • Verio (United States)
  • Virtual Internet (United Kingdom)
  • WebTrends (United States)

  •  

    Q: Do you expect additional applications for accreditation?

    A: Yes. Several other applicants have informally expressed an interest in applying.
     

    Q: Who?

    A: It would not be appropriate to identify them by name before they actually apply. However, ICANN has received expressions of interest from a diverse range of applicants, including individual consultants, large and small Internet service providers (ISPs), and telecommunications companies.
     

    Q: What are the basic requirements for accreditation?

    A: They are set out in detail in ICANNís Statement of Registrar Accreditation Policy (http://www.icann.org/registrars/policy_statement.html). In general, applicants must meet basic criteria showing that they are capable of acting as registrars and must enter an accreditation agreement with ICANN by which they agree to follow various practices designed to preserve the stability of the Internet, promote competition, and protect users from service interruptions.
     

    Q: Is NSI accredited as a registrar?

    A: Not currently. According to its Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Government, NSI will continue to act as a registrar on a legacy basis until the conclusion of the testbed phase. After the testbed phase, NSI will be permitted to compete under the same terms and conditions as the other registrars.
     

    Q: What is the difference between a "registry" and a "registrar"?

    A: In the model for competition being introduced, a "registry" is the database containing all the domain-name registrations in a top-level domain. Under current technical practices, the registry for each top-level domain is administered by a single entity. In the case of the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains, NSI is performing those administration services under its Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Government until September 30, 2000. A "registrar" is one of the numerous competing businesses that interact with customers, process registration orders, and place registration information into the registry. The Cooperative Agreement between NSI and the U.S. Government requires that NSI administer the registry in a neutral manner, ensuring equal access to all registrars to the shared registry system.
     

    Q: If the registry is supposed to be neutral and provide equal access to all registrars, why is NSI being allowed to serve both as registry administrator and registrar for the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains?

    A: To promote a smooth and stable transition to competition, the U.S. Government is permitting NSI to continue as both registry administrator and registrar, on the condition that NSI separates its registry and registrar operations. Amendment 11 to the Cooperative Agreement between NSI and the U.S. Government (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/proposals/docnsi100698.htm) states that upon implementation of the Shared Registry System, NSI will "provide all licensed Accredited Registrars with equal access to its registry services," and will "employ appropriate safeguards, approved by the [U.S. Government], to ensure that revenues and assets of the registry are not utilized to financially advantage NSIís registrar activities to the detriment of other registrars."
     

    Q: What is the Shared Registry System?

    A: As defined in Amendment 11 to the Cooperative Agreement between NSI and the U.S. Government, the Shared Registry System is "a protocol and associated software supporting a system that permits multiple registrars to provide registration services within the gTLDs for which NSI now acts as a registry." Under Amendment 11, the purpose of the Shared Registry System is "to create an environment conducive to the development of robust competition among domain name registrars." Other top-level domains (notably .uk Ė serving the United Kingdom) have successfully implemented shared registration systems.
     

    Q: Will the five testbed registrars get a competitive advantage over post-testbed registrars?

    A: ICANN has taken care to make sure that the competitive playing field starts and remains as level as possible. The testbed registrars pay additional fees, must devote additional resources to evaluating and fine-tuning the Shared Registry System, and are required to collect information about their testbed experiences and to share non-confidential information with registrars that begin competing after the testbed. They also have to participate in a public meeting assessing operations during the test. ICANN expects the testbed to provide valuable information both for participants and for future competitors. In addition, by announcing its intent today to accredit 29 post-testbed registrars, ICANN hopes to minimize any disadvantage to those not selected for the testbed by allowing them to plan and publicize their impending entry into the registrar business. The post-testbed registrars also can begin to resolve details with NSI immediately, so that they can actively register domain names immediately after the testbed phase ends.
     

    Q: Under the Shared Registry System, will the fees paid by customers for domain-name registrations be lower than what is currently charged by NSI?

    A: We hope so. Under the present system, NSI charges $35 per year for domain-name registrations in the .com, .net, and .org domains, and also requires an initial registration term of two years. Under the new regime, the fees charged by registrars will be established competitively. The cost to customers, of course, will depend in part on the fees that registrars must pay to NSI for its administration of the registry as well as the other terms of the contract that registrars must enter with NSI. The terms of that contract, including the amount of the fee, are subject to approval by the U.S Department of Commerce.
     

    Q: What fee will registrars pay to NSI, and what are the other terms of the contract between NSI and the registrars?

    A: Unfortunately, the Commerce Department and NSI have not reached agreement on a fee level based on the cost-recovery principles set forth in Amendment 11 to the Cooperative Agreement; interim contract terms and the fee of $9 per registration-year have been established for the testbed phase only. The terms of the ongoing contract (including the fee) will have a significant influence on the price of domain-name registration services to consumers, but ICANN believes that the introduction of competition is likely to reduce costs and improve service to customers worldwide.
     

    Q: Does ICANNís registrar accreditation program have anything to do with the registration of domain names in the country-code top-level domains (i.e., .uk, .jp, .br, etc.)?

    A: The present registrar accreditation program relates only to the .com, .net and .org top-level domains.
     

    Q: Now that the testbed participants have been selected, what will be ICANNís role in the testbed process itself?

    A: ICANN will work closely with the accredited testbed registrars, NSI, and the U.S. Government to monitor the progress of the testbed and to promote a smooth and timely transition to full competition.
     

    Q: Where do I go to register a domain name with one of the testbed registrars? And what will happen with the former InterNIC site?

    A: ICANN anticipates that each testbed and post-testbed registrar will utilize a web-based interface for domain name registration. We have asked that the InterNIC site (www.internic.net) become a central portal to the competitive Shared Registry System for the .com, .net, and .org domains, featuring a non-discriminatory layout of links to all accredited registrars.
     

    Q: What will happen if the testbed process is not successful? Will the goal of competition be abandoned?

    A: ICANN is committed to bringing competition and consumer choice to the market for domain name registration services in the .com, .net, and .org top-level domains. The central purpose of the testbed is to develop a functioning Shared Registry System and to learn from the experiences and expertise of the testbed participants. The question of whether there will be competition has already been answered. The testbed process will help answer the question of exactly how.