Feds inch closer to privatizing Net management

The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers has named five new domain registrars
to work the bugs out of the new Shared Registry System during a two-month test.

The registrars will be the first to compete with Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon,
Va., which has been exclusive registrar for the .com, .net and .org top-level domains
under a 1993 agreement with the Commerce Department.

The new registrars are America Online Inc. of Dulles, Va., the Internet Council of
Registrars of Geneva, France Telecom of Paris, Melbourne IT of Melbourne, Australia, and
Register.com of New York.

Another 29 companies in nine countries have been accredited to become domain registrars
when the test phase ends June 24, ICANN officials said.

The selection of registrars is the latest step in the government’s privatization
of Internet management. Competition in the established .com, .org and .net domains is the
first step to expand availability of domain names.

More top-level domains could be added once ICANN establishes a process for doing so.
The U.S. government will still administer the .gov, .mil and .us domains. Numerous other
two-letter country domains are being competitively registered but are not as widely used.

Network Solutions will continue to maintain the database of domain names that routes
Internet traffic across interconnected networks. The company will charge the new
registrars $9 a year for each name registered during the test phase. An initial two-year
registration is required, followed by annual renewals.

Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is wrangling
with Network Solutions to lower the fee, however.

“How far apart are we? That’s difficult to say,” Network Solutions
spokesman Brian O’Shaughnessy said. “The negotiations will continue until they
get an agreement.”

Network Solutions also will continue to register names for $35 a year. Its agreement
with Commerce forbids using that revenue to fund its competitive registration activities.

The new registrars all will license software from Network Solutions to use the Shared
Registry System. They are expected to open for registration business soon.

Although ICANN officials said they hoped the new registrars would charge less than the
$35 a year per name charged by Network Solutions, none of the companies had set their
prices as of last week. Fees will be determined not just by the cost of doing business
with Network Solutions but by each individual registrar’s business model.

ICANN announced that 31 companies applied to participate in the test bed phase. All
qualified to become registrars in the second phase. The top five were chosen for their
technical and business ability to support the trials, willingness to commit sufficient
resources, and diversity of geographic locations and business models.

Becoming a registrar is not cheap. Besides a one-time $10,000 license fee for the
software, there is a $2,500 application fee to ICANN and a $5,000 annual accreditation

Fifteen representatives from the new registrars met with Network Solutions officials
shortly after their selection for a briefing about the Shared Registry System.

“The tone of the meeting was upbeat. There was no confrontation at all,” said
Dave Holtzman, Network Solutions’ senior vice president for engineering.

The new registrars will connect to the Shared Registry System over the Internet and
will use the Registry-Registrar Protocol to enter, change and delete names.

Holtzman said Network Solutions spent $20 million developing the Shared Registry
System, which is completely different from the system the company has used for the last
six years.

“The act of assigning a domain name is the smallest part of the process,” he
said, because registry activities involve a financial component, multiple points of
contact and security.

“We have all these companies we don’t have any control over coming into
it,” he said. “It could potentially bring down the whole Internet.”  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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