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Battle Looms Over .PH Domain

Local users, Web site owners, and Internet service providers last week sought government support for their plan to wrest control over the .PH domain from the current administrator, DotPH Inc., and to turn it over to a non-profit organization called PH-NIC.

Last Friday, the diverse group presented a letter to the Information Technology and E-Commerce Council (ITECC) indicating their intent to petition the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to redelegate the authority to manage the Philippine domain registry.

Citing the lack of consultation and transparency in the way DotPH administers the Philippine domain, the petitioners said the government should endorse their bid to have the authority transferred to PH-NIC.

Redelegation is a process by which the local Internet community of a country can petition the US-based ICANN to remove the authority over a country code top level domain (CCTLD) from the incumbent and assign it to a new body. ICANN appoints only one CCTLD administrator per country.

The co-chairman of the ITECC subcommittee hearing the issue, however, sought to avert a confrontation in ICANN, and urged DotPH and the complainants to settle the matter locally.

The one-page letter to the ITECC was a departure from initial plans to submit a detailed position paper to the ITECC subcommittee on consumer protection, outlining complaints over the way the .PH domain is managed. Earlier this month, a group of Web site owners prepared a laundry list of complaints to the government over the way the .PH domain is managed by DotPH Inc.

This initial group of complainants, however, was joined by a larger group that includes Internet service providers (ISPs) to push the redelegation agenda, said Dr. Rodolfo M. Villarica, trustee of the PHnet Foundation and spokesman for the group.

Villarica told Computerworld that the group would establish a foundation called PH-NIC where ISPs, Web site owners, the academic community, the government, and the public in general can become stakeholders, each with a vote on how the .PH domain should be administered.

This set-up, he said, would correct the lack of representation, transparency, accountability, and consultation that characterizes how the Philippine domain has been administered to date.

Dr. Villarica, who is remembered for his role in establishing the country’s first live link in March 1994, said the chances are good that ICANN will redelegate authority if the petitioners gain high-level government support.

At last Friday’s meeting of the ITECC consumer protection subcommittee, however, co-chairman Dennis Deveza obtained a commitment from Joel Disini, CEO of DotPH; and Fernando D. Contreras Jr., president of local ISP Interdotnet Philippines, Inc. and representative of the complainants; to try settling the issues among themselves in another meeting set for that purpose. A key talking point among the complainants is the setting up of a broadly represented policy-making board to which DotPH must answer.

At the center of the controversy, DotPH has acted as the sole official domain registry of the Philippines since 1999. For the 10 years preceding this, the domain was administered by Disini, who owns DotPH. The meetings at ITECC are the latest in a string of attempts to resolve longstanding issues brought about by the private ownership of the .PH

domain. Earlier efforts to obtain public and industry representation in the local domain administration have fallen short

of the mark. These include initiatives by the PHnet Foundation and the Philippine Internet Service Organization

(PISO).

The spark for the latest move against DotPH were complaints posted on the popular PH-Cyberview mailing list. These were brought to the attention of ITECC consumer protection subcommittee last March 9, where some of the complainants met representatives of DotPH.

“This issue will definitely affect e-commerce and the ITECC can get involved,― said Deveza, co-chairman of

the subcommittee. He advised the complainants to collect, document, and summarize their complaints in a position paper to be submitted a week later, March 16. DotPH, in turn, would be given time to respond to the issues brought up in the position paper. The ITECC subcommittee would then make its policy recommendations based on its study

of both sides. Deveza also urged complainants to recommend solutions to the problems that they raise.

Topping the list of complaints among the Cyberview listers was the perception that dotPH registrations, at $35 a year, are expensive compared to prices for .com registrations, which have fallen to as low as $12 to $13 a year because of competition. In contrast, the complainants said, a monopoly of the .PH domain allows DotPH to set registration fees arbitrarily.

The complainants also criticized the way DotPH sets policies and directions regarding the .PH domain without consulting the government, the academic sector, or Internet users. Among the policies that came under fire is DotPH’s move to market .PH as an international domain name for mobile phones, a move that some critics say will dilute the value of what they view as a national resource.

A third issue that emerged is unfair competition arising from the common ownership shared by DotPH and EMC, an

Internet service provider. This common ownership, complainants said, allows EMC to offer free .PH domain names to

its clients, putting other ISPs at a disadvantage. EMC officials denied this allegation.

Users on the popular PH-Cyberview mailing list were ticked off earlier this January, when DotPH announced an increase in its registration fees, saying that the $35 a year fee would be computed on the basis of P56 to a US dollar. That price has since come down to P50, but participants in the Cyberview mailing list questioned why fees should be based on dollars at all. These posts led to a string of other complaints as well.

Summarizing some of these complaints, list owner and Computerworld Philippines columnist Jim Ayson noted that in

a time when dot-com domain prices have plummeted elsewhere in the world, DotPH actually increased its domain

prices, from the original P900 for life to $35 a year. This, listers said, is one reason Filipinos patronize generic

domains such as .com instead of the country-specific .PH domain. In the US, prices for .com registrations have fallen

to as low as $12 because of competition among authorized registrars.

Meanwhile, in an e-mail reply to questions posed by Computerworld, Disini justified local registration fees, noting that they are very competitive to those offered by Network Solutions Inc. (NSI), which administers top level domains in the US. Disini said many of the registrars authorized by the ICANN in the US are close to bankruptcy precisely because

of cut-throat competition and price-cutting. To prevent the same thing from happening here, Disini added,

dotPH’s resellers are urged not to sell below the suggested retail price of $35.

In addition, Emil Avanceña of dotPH, who attended the March 9 subcommittee meeting, said comparing the prices

of .com to that of the .PH domains is like comparing apples and oranges. “It is not a valid comparison because .com is a generic top level domain (GTLD). The .PH domain is a country code top level domain (CCTLD) and is among the lowest priced in comparison with other CCTLDs. The Japan registry charges $168 for a .jp, the UK

registry charges $120 for a co.uk, and the German registry charges $108 for a .de. Even other CCTLDs that are

pushed as generic domains are more

on the name, and number of characters.â€

expensive.

.TV, for example, starts at $50 and can go much higher, depending

Avence¤a also answered exchange rate questions, saying that dotPH incurs dollar costs, such as those associated with locating their servers in the United States.

“Clients demand a certain level of service from us. Real-time domain availability and Whois search, automated registration—all these services entail higher costs on our end,― Avanceña said.

Avanceña denied the rumored involvement of Japanese venture capitalists in dotPH, saying that there is no foreign funding in dotPH. He also denied accusations that dotPH had ever threatened to withhold action on the gov.ph registration—a charge that surfaced on the Cyberview mailing list.

Avanceña’s denial, however, was refuted by Dennis F. Villorente, officer in charge of the communications and engineering division of the government’s Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI). In an e-mail response to Avanceña, Villorente said,”If your company keeps records of requests, you’ll find that on Aug. 27, 1999, the Assistant Secretary of Department of Science and Technology (DOST) sent a letter of request for modification of the NS records for gov.ph. The request was urgent because the existing NS records for gov.ph on the ph zone file then were already invalid and were causing problems for the whole gov.ph.― The request was never acted upon because of an “incompatibility― between the “payment requirements of the .PH administrator and government accounting and auditing rules―, Villorente said.

“Responsibility for gov.ph has now been transferred to our institute (maintenance was being done by another DOST agency up until late last year),― Villorente wrote. “I can tell you that even though I want to have changes done with the NS and glue records for gov.ph on the ph zone file in order to further improve performance and reliability for the domain, I’ve not done it because of this previous experience.â€

ACCOUNTABILITY Another hotly contested issue is DotPH’s effort to promote the .PH domain as an international domain name for phones, in much the same way that the states of Tuvalu and Moldavia market .TV and .MD as television and medical domains.

“The commercial exploitation of .PH as a domain for phones should have been done with consultation with the ‘Net community and the Philippine government, since the TLD involved represents the Republic of the Philippines,― Ayson said. The domain merchants for Tuvalu (.TV), Moldavia (.MD), have all made arrangements with the governments of these countries to commercialize the country code domain so the country does get something out of it, Ayson added. No such arrangement bind DotPH, he noted.

PRECEDENT Under ICANN rules and precedents, petitioners need to build a case against the incumbent administrator, who will also have the opportunity to defend himself. While there are not many, there have been instances where ICANN redelegated the CCTLD authority. One of the more recent of these was in 1997 for the island of Pitcairn, a former territory of the United Kingdom.

Published in Computerworld Philippines, March 19, 2001