The controversy surrounding registration of Internet site names escalated last week when the main independent body managing the process, the National Science Foundation (NSF), announced plans to pull out next year. This leaves Virginia-based Network Solutions (NSI) in sole charge of allocating Internet domain names for Web sites, but the company is facing an antitrust suit as well as increasingly loud calls for the process to be opened up.
The NSF originally took responsibility for registering and managing domain names worldwide when the Internet was primarily a non-commercial service used by the scientific community. It now feels the change in the role of the Net has made its involvement inappropriate. But domain names - site labels with generic tags, known as top level domains, such as .com or.edu - now have a commercial value and so the battle to control them is heating up.
Network Solutions (NSI) currently holds a monopoly on assigning domain names with these generic tags, since it was given a grant to take on the responsibility by the NSF (a US government agency). However, last autumn a group of Internet industry bodies came up with proposals to create new top level domains (TLDs) and to put these in the hands of new registrars.
Progress on this has been slow and a sign of the mounting frustration among those who want a piece of the lucrative registration business was a lawsuit, filed by a New York company, PGP Media, last week. It charges NSI and other Internet organisations with violating antitrust laws by keeping sold control of domain names.
Joseph Bordogna, acting deputy director of the NSF, said that the body has no plans to review its arrangement with NSI when it backs out of the domain name business next year. However, it may end by mutual agreement if the plans to open up registration are adopted - which is possibly by the end of the year, although the process is being dogged by political battles.
The main proposal, under the auspices of the international Internet Society non-profit body, is that at least three new top level domains should be created to ease the over-subscription to site names ending in the current suffixes, particularly .com. These should be administered by new registrars, and it is possible that NSI would also give up its monopoly on handling the current TLDs. The potential revenues for new registrars are huge as each site pays a fee to register its name.
However, the Internet Society plans have met with opposition from some Internet users and providers, which claim the discussions were not democratic and the process of opening up the market will be too slow and limited. A group of suppliers has even set up an alternative, unauthorised set of top level domains in protest (see previous stories).
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