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Control of Ireland's national Internet domain, .ie, looks set to be wrenched from the hands of the company set up to administer it. Minister for Communications Dermot Ahern, TD, said on Tuesday that officials within his department were drafting legislation that will see control of the .ie domain registry shifted to Ireland's communications regulator, ComReg. Currently the .ie Domain Registry (IEDR) Ltd, a non-profit company, runs the domain which claims some 40,000 Web sites.

Last November, it emerged that the government was seeking to give ComReg the power to regulate the registry under the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. But these new measures go a step further by completely taking control of the .ie registration out of IEDR Ltd's hands.

Along with transfer of control, the bill will include authorisation for ComReg to impose a levy on .ie registrars to fund expenses. Additionally, the bill will allow for fines of up to €2,000 daily for non-compliance with regulations laid down with the operation of the registry.

"The .ie name is Ireland's Web site address. As such, it is in a sense a national resource. I want to ensure that Ireland's national domain name registry is in a position to thrive and benefit business and consumers alike," Ahern said. "I believe the transfer of responsibility to an organisation such as ComReg will immeasurably strengthen the operations of the registry."

A spokesperson for the IEDR said that the organisation would issue its response to the minister's comments later on Tuesday.

The announcement of the impending regime change comes as no great surprise after several years of complaints about apparent instability at the registry filed with government departments. Much of the concern surrounded a lack of transparency at the company and an apparent unwillingness to communicate with the businesses that rely on the IEDR monopoly

War of words

Indeed, the .ie domain has been a hotbed of dissent and rumour in Ireland for several years, with the industry, the IEDR and disgruntled IEDR executives waging a war of words. And the stakes in the battle were high because the IEDR's role means it has tremendous power - think of the registry as the Internet equivalent of a planning authority, with absolute discretion to decide who gets what Web site name, and to set the charges for registration.

Though the organisation's problems date back to the spin-off of the IEDR from UCD, problems with the company exploded in the autumn of 2002 when then-CEO Mike Fagan was suspended by IEDR chairman Prof. Sean Scanlan. During the subsequent 13-month legal battle between Fagan and the company, several requests were made by individuals and industry organisations asking the government to step in to ensure that the domain did not collapse and to stop the damage that was being inflicted upon the reputation of Ireland's Internet community.

Even the Tanaiste, Mary Harney, weighed in on the issue more than a year ago, officially requesting that Minister Ahern's office do something to stop the apparent rot at the company.

By November 2003, shortly after a settlement was reached with Fagan, the situation looked calmer: the IEDR said that after substantial losses in 2002, it had made a profit in the first six months of 2003. It also cut the price of .ie domains by 10 per cent to €112 (plus VAT) and in January 2004 it named financial controller David Curtin as its new CEO.

© ENN

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