Cybers Ramblings - Oct 24, 2000

24 October 2000
Compiled by Kevin Smith

US Proposes Initiative for International Fair Competition
Providing fair competition in the rapidly growing e-commerce world continues to be a high priority for the Clinton administration. A Monday announcement revealed plans to launch a "networked world" trade initiative aimed at creating a set of international rules to ensure fair competition. U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky said the initiative would be put forward at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and other international trade groups. A set of general principles is needed to protect consumers and incentives for innovation, as well as to integrate open markets, she said. E-commerce totaled about $200 billion last year and is expected to soar to $700 billion this year, according to industry experts.

In addition to retail sales to consumers on the Internet, all major industries have begun using e-commerce to buy and sell supplies and services for internal use. A global consensus should establish principles that encourage technological advances and the proper treatment of digital products under WTO rules, Barshefsky said. The WTO has not yet decided how to classify products delivered in digital form.

Clinton Gives Green Light to 3G Auctions
American users who have longed for the same wireless access to the internet as their European and Asian counterparts, got one step closer last week when the government announced it's taking applications for 3G wireless auctions. The White House took a small step Friday toward freeing part of its radio spectrum for third-generation wireless services, raising the ability of big wireless auctions similar to those conducted in Europe. The move is essential if the US is to avoid falling behind other countries as Internet access moves from the personal computer to wireless devices, the White House said. Based on the highest prices paid in European 3G auctions this year, the auctions could eventually raise more than $150 billion. With a deadline of September 2002 for its 3G wireless auctions, however, the US is already well behind others in the race to develop high-speed Internet access over wireless devices. The first 3G service will be launched in Japan next May.

Making a bigger slice of the airwaves available to wireless communications had become "a national priority", said William Kennard, the chairman of the Federation Communications Commission. A shortage of airwave space had become a limiting factor on the growth of the new economy, he added, preventing the growth of wireless services. Launching the process that will lead to the 3G auctions, President Clinton announced an official review to identify a block of radio spectrum that could be cleared for wireless data use.

Domain Names Held Hostage Forces Class-Action Lawsuit
Network Solutions, a company that sells domain names for the World Wide Web, is facing a class-action lawsuit after denying a domain name even though its ownership had legally expired. The suit was filed in Alabama after Stan Smith, a businessman from the southern state, tried to register several domain names with Network Solutions in June. And while every domain name that Smith tried to register had expired, Network Solutions refused to delete them from its central WHOIS registry database, denying Smith the chance to assume ownership of those names. According to the complaint, Network Solutions implemented a unilateral policy of refusing to delete expired domain names from the WHOIS database. Reports estimate that the number of expired names withheld by Network Solutions, Inc. is between one and three million. Network Solutions is suspected of keeping the names with a view to auctioning them at a later date. Earlier this year it notified domain name owners who had failed to pay renewal or registration fees that if they did not settle their accounts immediately it would put their domain names up for auction. The reaction to this announcement, with critics arguing that any expired names should become publicly available, persuaded Network Solutions to shelve its plans. WHOIS is the standard label for a name-lookup, or registry database, of more than 10 million names - including all .com, .net and .org names--considered to be a generic utility for the Internet's administrative community. The database was developed by Network Solutions, who until October 1998, held a government-sanctioned monopoly for the registration of non-military Internet domain names. Law now requires that the WHOIS database remain accessible to all name lookup services.

Suit Stops Spam from Spreading
Could all those junk e-mails that clog up your inbox be a thing of the past? A permanent court order has been obtained in the U.S. to prevent a company and its owner from sending any unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, to any Internet users. It is thought to be the first order of its kind. In a case brought on behalf of California e-mail service Friendly Email, the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia permanently forbid Benchmark Print Supply and its owner Sam Khuri from sending any unsolicited commercial e-mail to any internet users. The court also forbid Khuri from engaging in a host of other improper e-mail related activities, including spoofing (falsifying the originating address of their e-mails) and cloaking (otherwise attempting to disguise the e-mails' true source). The injunction also requires Khuri and Benchmark to abide by the applicable Terms Of Service in relation to any e-mail accounts they obtain from ISPs or other e-mail services, most of which expressly forbid any use of such accounts in relation to the sending of spam.

MBNA Introduces Temporary Numbers for Online Shoppers
MBNA, the world's largest independent credit card issuer, is venturing into the world of temporary numbers for its customers to help with security when making purchases through the Internet. MBNA will use technology created by New York-based Orbiscom to allow its 45 million Visa and MasterCard customers to buy goods on the Net without ever disclosing their personal credit card number. MBNA cardholders will be able to download Orbiscom's O-power application from the bank's website to use a unique card number for each transaction and set a dollar limit on that transaction. MBNA, based in Wilmington, Del., will be the first U.S. bank to offer such a service, expected to debut next month, just in time for the busy holiday shopping season. American Express began offering its cardholders disposable credit card numbers online, using in-house technology, at the end of the month. But the AmEx service does not give cardholders the ability to set a price limit on purchases. MBNA will initially offer the service to only its U.S. customers, later expanding it to Canada and the U.K. Orbiscom's technology already has been adopted earlier this year by HFC Bank in the U.K. and AIB Bank in Ireland, which beta-tested the technology.

Founders of WingspanBank Announce Formation of Juniper Bank
Learning from their experience, the founders of WingspanBank, James Stewart and Richard Vague, announced a new bank on Monday. After leaving Wingspan in June 1999, the duo left the firm last year amid internal strife at credit card conglomerate First USA, which is owned by commercial bank Bank One, the parent of WingspanBank. Vague had been CEO at First USA, and Stewart was the CEO of WingspanBank. Juniper Bank represents a fresh start for the two executives, who clearly have a passion for online banking. Juniper offers credit cards and online bill payment, as well as checking and saving products at rates comparable to those of online entities E-Trade Bank, WingspanBank and NetBank. Within the first few months, the bank will launch wireless banking, brokerage, loans and insurance services through partnerships with various providers. The company has raised $114 million in capital since May, a significant amount for any Internet startup in today's market. Investors include Benchmark Capital, J. & W. Seligman, Maverick Capital and Sonera.

Palm Announces Increase of Parts Production
Palm, the world's No. 1 maker of handheld electronic organizers, is increasing suppliers of parts needed to manufacture its Palm VII and other branded products, as it faces an industry wide parts shortage. Palm is in desperate demand for flat-screen panels, flash memory and radio transmitters. The shortage stems from growing demand for mobile devices, such as electronic organizers, digital cameras and mobile phones. Palm is not alone in suffering from a parts shortage. Companies from game console makers, such as Nintendo and Sony, to cellular phone makers, such as Matsushita Electric and Kyocera, have voiced similar concerns, as consumers worldwide demand handy devices for entertainment, communication and other needs. The devices use many of the same components. Demand for Palm and other handheld personal computers is likely to grow further because those who already use these devices account for less than 2 percent of PC users, according to Palm.