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Another Monopoly Attacked: Web Domain Names

February 09, 1999|KAREN KAPLAN, technology reporter

As of Monday, Network Solutions' monopoly days are numbered.

For six years, the Herndon, Va., company has held an exclusive contract with the U.S. government to register domain names on the Internet. But with the increasing commercialization of the global computer network, the Clinton administration has encouraged the Internet community to devise a plan to bring competition to the market for registering names that end in .com, .net and .org.

The proposed blueprint to do just that was released Monday by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit formed last year for that purpose. The ICANN plan outlines requirements for becoming an accredited registrar and would allow Internet users to take their domain names--such as latimes.com--with them if they switched registrars. Domain name owners would have to provide more information about themselves so they could be tracked down if their sites contained "questionable content," said Ken Stubbs, chairman of the Council of Internet Registrars.

The ICANN proposal includes an aggressive schedule that would see five companies competing with Network Solutions on a test basis by the third week of April, with the monopoly being completely dissolved 60 days after that. But first, all interested parties must come to a "rough consensus" on a final version of the plan, said ICANN interim Chief Executive Michael Roberts, who is somewhat skeptical those deadlines can be met.

So is Network Solutions spokesman Christopher Clough, whose company has a financial interest in delaying the transition.

"It is an extremely ambitious--if not overambitious--timetable," he said. "There's a lot of wishful thinking on the part of various folks, including the government."

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