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First NSI competitor goes to work

Register.com says it has begun selling Net addresses through a shared registration system, making it the first company to compete with Network Solutions in the popular ".com," ".net," and ".org" domain name space.

Register.com today said it has begun selling Internet addresses through a shared registration system, making it the first company to compete with Network Solutions in the popular ".com," ".net," and ".org" domain name space.

New York City-based Register.com is one of five "test-bed" registrars named in April to sell domain names under the shared registration system, which is designed to end Network Solutions' U.S. government-mandated monopoly in the registration of the Net's most popular domain names.

Some of the other test-bed registrars are expected to be up and running by the end of the month. Although the registrars were supposed to be operational by April 26, the process of getting them connected to NSI's master database has pushed back the schedule considerably.

A chief sticking point involved terms of the legal arrangement to which NSI required the registrars to agree. Also holding things up were technical difficulties getting NSI's software to work properly. The registrars are forbidden from discussing the technical problems under a nondisclosure agreement they signed with NSI, according to Ken Stubbs, chairman of CORE (Internet Council of Registrars), one of the other test-bed registrars.

"We've accomplished the first hurdle, and hopefully that will make other hurdles easier to surmount," Register.com president Richard Forman told CNET News.com today. Still, Forman acknowledged that "there are a lot of issues that are still not resolved" in creating new competition. They include coming up with policies for new registrars to handle disputes over the ownership of domain names and fees the new registrars must pay to NSI and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit corporation that is taking over responsibility for day-to-day administration of the Net.

Register.com will charge $70 per domain name for the first two years and $35 for every year thereafter. That is the same fee NSI charges customers who already have the technical resources to host an Internet site. For those without a so-called domain name system server, NSI charges $119. Register.com's fees, on the other hand, do not require users to have a domain name system server, eliminating a major hassle and speeding up the process of getting a domain name up and running, Forman said.

In a sharp about-face, however, Register.com will require domain name fees to be paid at the time of registration. Previously, the company allowed people to reserve a name and pay for it later, a practice many critics said encouraged so-called domain name squatting, where popular addresses were registered and then auctioned off at a considerable premium. NSI will still allow people to hold a domain name for up to 60 days before paying for it.

Register.com also unveiled a new online domain name manager that allows customers to change contact and billing information, modify Internet protocol numbers, and update domain name system servers for every domain name they own. Previously, the process for modifying addresses not sold by NSI required customers to use cumbersome email templates. Forman said the application was only one of many solutions Register.com will roll out.

"Over the next two to three weeks you're going to see new products and services that are going to make domain names more useful, more accessible, and more powerful," he said.

ICANN on April 21 named the first five registrars that would offer domain names under the shared registration system. Previously, Herndon, Virginia-based NSI had sole authority under a cooperative agreement with the federal government to sell domain names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org," which account for an estimated half of the Internet's addresses.

Executives from two of the test-bed registrars--America Online and CORE--said they expect to be up and running by the end of the month.

"It's been a real challenge. Most of the major problems have been solved. We're just working the bugs out now," CORE's Stubbs said. An AOL spokesman declined to discuss the matter, and executives from the remaining two test-bed registrars--Melbourne IT in Australia and France Telecom--were not immediately available for comment.