Network Solutions seizes Web directory

The government-selected company that assigns most of the world's Internet addresses made a surprise move to steer customers of an important Web directory to its private commercial site, and the US government wants to know why.

"We're very concerned," Becky Burr, administrator with the Commerce Department, said Tuesday. "This was undertaken without consultation with the United States government."

People trying to visit the popular "Internic" directory -- which checks the availability of a new Web address -- are being swept automatically instead to the home page for Network Solutions Inc., which offers to register Internet addresses with the com, net or org suffixes for $119.

"The community has had it for a long time, and they're used to having it for a reference tool," said Michael Roberts, president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is assuming most of the management responsibilities for the Internet from the U.S. government. "Whether this sort of brute-force approach to closing it is appropriate, there are a lot of questions about that," Roberts said. "The manner in which they did it seemed pretty inappropriate."

The government is upset because the information directory has traditionally been considered a community resource, like a giant telephone book for the Web, and because it owns Internic as a registered trademark. "Our view is, this information has been freely available to the Internet community for a long time," Burr said. "If there is some reason to change that, we need to be consulted."

The information is still free, but one generally must go through the commercial Web site to see it. The unexpected change occurred overnight last Friday. It illustrates the difficulty the government is having giving private industry the job of running the worldwide computer network, which is becoming the most crucial communications medium for the digital age. Hundreds e-mailed the Commerce Department to complain.

"We're entering a very uncertain period," said Jay Fenello, president of Iperdome Inc., an Internet company. Network Solutions, based in Herndon, Virginia, has enjoyed a lucrative, exclusive government agreement to register most of the world's addresses since 1993. The company has registered more than 4 million Web sites and had dlrs 93.7 million in sales last year.

Its decision last weekend to quietly steer visitors from Internic to its own site comes just days before Roberts' organisation selects five companies that will compete with Network Solutions in assigning Web addresses. Roberts said the change has generated so much consternation that his organisation may delay selection of those new registration companies.

A spokesman for Network Solutions, Chris Clough, said the Internic information directory is legally a customer list owned by his company. He said the company decided last weekend to consolidate several Web sites it maintained, including Internic, to anticipate changes in how the Internet will be managed. The California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, was expected to select five new Web registration companies worldwide soon.


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