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Proposal Puts Internet Control in Private Sector

Technology: Clinton administration plan, to be released today, would also add five new address suffixes.

January 30, 1998|RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN | WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration will propose today that control of some of the Internet's most crucial operations be transferred from federal research agencies to the private sector over the next two years, according to White House officials.

In a much-anticipated report, the administration lays out a new structure for the global computer network, which has become a fast-growing medium for communication and commerce. Under the plan, the government's role in assigning Internet addresses and maintaining the traffic-directing hardware at the heart of the network would shift to a not-for-profit private corporation. The corporation would be run and funded by the businesses, people and institutions that use the Internet.

The White House proposal, which administration officials said does not require congressional approval, is intended to make the global network's computers more reliable and to open to competition the task of assigning addresses on the network, with the aim of widening consumer choice and lowering costs.

The plan would allow firms other than Network Solutions Inc., a Herndon, Va., company that has an exclusive arrangement with the federal government, to assign addresses that end in ".com," ".org" and ".net."

In addition, the administration will authorize the creation of five new address suffixes--called "top-level domains" in Internet parlance--that can be assigned by several companies, according to a copy of the report obtained by the Washington Post. Domain names--such as www.ford.com or www.disney.com--function as a sort of ZIP code system for the Internet, enabling users to locate pages on the graphical World Wide Web and address electronic mail.

The five new domains would allow more individuals and businesses, some of which have been bickering over space in the popular but crowded ".com" area, to obtain addresses that more closely reflect their names. The result could be retailers with Web addresses ending in ".store" or theaters whose addresses end with ".arts."

The cost of registering an address, now $100 for two years, also is expected to drop significantly with competition, industry specialists predict, leading many ordinary computer users to snap up personalized e-mail and Web page addresses.

The Internet was built by the federal government in the late 1960s as a way to help scientists in different parts of the country better communicate with one another.

Although private telecommunications companies now sell access to the Internet and carry much of its traffic, federal agencies, either directly or through contracts, have continued to manage several key functions, including the assignment of addresses and the workings of the "white pages" directories that enable computers to find each other.

But as the network has grown into something resembling a mass medium, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Department, which have nurtured the network since the '60s, have concluded that they no longer want to be responsible for operating it.

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