NSF back in domain registration business?

Dan Kohn (dan@teledesic.com)
Tue, 11 Mar 1997 08:05:11 -0800

[* Ah, the truly bad idea for the week. - dan *]

http://www.nwfusion.com/ Article 1032

Feds consider taking back domain names

By Todd R. Wallack
Network World Fusion, 3/10/97

Just when you thought the government was trying to get out of the
Internet address business, a federal investigative office has suddenly
recommended that Uncle Sam jump right back in.

In a 17-page confidential report, the National Science Foundation's
(NSF) Office of the Inspector General(OIG) concluded last month that
theagency is missing out on a prime source of revenue. By registering
Internet domain names itself, the report argues, the NSF could collect
millions in registration fees and recoup some of the government's
investment in the Internet.

The NSF has not doled out domain names since 1993, when it created the
InterNIC registration system, now run by Network Solutions, Inc.
(NSI). The privately held company took in approximately $51 million in
registration fees between late 1995 and Jan. 31 this year. Under its
cooperativeagreement with the NSF, NSI keeps 70 percent of the fees
and sets aside the rest for public investment in the Internet.

But NSI claims it has actually lost money on the registration business
in the past two years, because of the high cost of keeping up with the
explosive growth in domain name requests.

''This is a tremendous undertaking,'' said Christopher Clough, NSI
spokesman. The company registers names in the .com, .edu and .org

The report apparently took many NSF officials and Internet observers
by surprise. A task force set up by the Internet Society, which
includes a representative of the NSF, recently recommended the
creation of dozens of private registries and a nonprofit organization
to oversee them. The government's contract with NSI is set to expire
next year.

''It's surprising because it would have seemed that the NSF had been
moving in the opposite direction,'' said Don Heath, president and
chief executive officer of the Internet Society.

In addition, the NSF may not even be allowed to implement the
recommendations under its current charter. Several sources familiar
with the report said the NSF was set up to disburse funds - not to
generate them. Congressional action might be necessary to modify the

NSF officials said they could not comment until they formally prepare
a response to the OIG's report. The OIGacts as an independent watchdog
over the NSF, reporting directly to Congress and the National Science
Board, which oversees the NSF.

''They take a look at NSF practices to make sure we are staying in
line,'' said Beth Gaston, a spokeswoman for the NSF.

The OIG reportedly gathered reams of documents from the Internet and
from the NSF to prepare the report. But the office has not yet made
the report publicand tried to keep the investigation quiet.

''We were not contacted in any way whatsoever,'' NSI's Clough said.

Scott Bradner, a member of the Internet Society, said he could not
discuss the report, but added that it did not make sense for the NSF
to start doling out Internet domain names again.

''In general, NSF should get out of the business,'' Bradner said.

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<Picture: For more info:>

Contact Senior Writer Todd R. Wallack

NSF's cooperative agreement with NSI

Office of Inspector General phone numbers

IAHC site - Includes the proposal for new top-level domains and

Growth in the number of Internet hosts - Chart from Network Wizards.

Don't let the Feds take over Net names - Commentary by Brock Meeks of

A Brief History of the Internet - From the Internet Society.