Internet

Domain name slowdown hits customers

Network Solutions, the government-appointed gatekeeper for Internet addresses, is experiencing a processing backlog.

Network Solutions, the government-appointed gatekeeper for the most popular forms of Internet addresses, is experiencing a backlog in processing new orders, creating complaints among some customers.

The most commonly reported problem is delay in the time it takes Network Solutions to respond to requests for new domain names. Whereas in the past it has taken 2 to 12 hours for NSI's "autoresponder" to send a confirmation that a request has been received, complaints made on Internet newsgroups and elsewhere say it now takes days to send the acknowledgements.

NSI also appears to have lost orders, others complain, causing at least one customer to miss out on his attempt to register a domain name (though he claims to have registered it first). Other complaints--some of which come from competitors of NSI--claim that the Herndon, Virginia, company's Worldnic site and its accompanying phone service are telling customers that domain names are available even when a search on the Whois directory on Internet names shows that the sites are already registered.

Acknowledging the backlog, NSI spokesman Chris Clough blamed a record number of registrations and a rash of fraudulent registrations sent via email.

NSI recently announced that it registered 1.9 million Internet addresses in 1998, nearly twice the number it registered the previous year. The influx of "spammed" registrations started after the first of the year, straining the company's already taxed networks, he said.

NSI's problems come at a crucial time, as the company is losing its government granted monopoly in registering domain names ending in .com, .net, .org, and .edu. Later this year, NSI will be forced to compete with other registry services, the first time in its five-year history as a registrar.

To prepare for competition, NSI has been feverishly striking marketing deals with Internet companies in the United States and overseas and upgrading its own technical infrastructure. Recent partners include Netscape Communications and Yahoo.

Last week, NSI announced a two-for-one stock split for its high-flying stock. On the same day, the company announced a secondary offering of 4.58 million shares that could raise as much as $700 million.

During random visits to NSI's Web site over the past three days, CNET News.com received "internal error" notifications on four separate occasions, saying registration requests were unable to be completed.

Over the past week, NSI customers say their have noticed the backlog grow.

"Our problem is about customer perception," said Richard Forman, president of Register.com, an NSI competitor that claims to be the largest domain name registry.

Forman says his customers have grown anxious when they haven't received a prompt response from NSI. "If they system goes down, they should tell everybody, as opposed to not keeping people informed," he said.

For others, the backlog appears to have caused NSI to lose requests for domain names.

"Two days ago, I attempted to register 'injustice.com' through the internic's web form," a post made today on the inet-access listserve complains. "Today I notice the domain has been taken. I had been watching this domain for some time, and believe I was the first to register it, but THEIR email system delayed it."

Another NSI customer said at least three requests he has emailed NSI over the past week have been returned with the words "unknown mailer error" in the subject header. A partner at domainregistry.com, a service that in part competes with NSI, the person said the return email means those requests are not being processed, allowing competitors who register the same name to get it first.

The individual, who asked that his name not be used, added that there also appear to be discrepancies in NSI's database of registered names. For example, he said, the directory indicated that the domain name powernz.net was still available, even though he had registered the site earlier. A query made by News.com today at 2 p.m. confirmed that the address was available.

NSI's Clough acknowledged that the company's email confirmation system has been slower than usual but declined to discuss specific problems. NSI hopes to correct the backlog in the next 24 to 48 hours, he said.