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NSI, Commerce Dept. extend domain test

Network Solutions and government officials agree to extend the test period for a competitive system for registering Internet addresses until the end of the month.

The Commerce Department and Network Solutions, the dominant registrar of domain names, have agreed to extend the test period for a competitive system for registering the most popular forms of Internet addresses until the end of the month.

The "test bed" period, which was scheduled to expire today, will be extended until September 30. The extension, the fourth since the Commerce Department authorized new companies to begin registering domains ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org," will give the agency more time to settle differences it has with Network Solutions (NSI).

Herndon, Virginia-based NSI, which used to be the sole registrar of top-level domain names under a 1993 Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. government, still manages the master domain name registry that new competitors must tap into to register names.

A nonprofit appointed by the Clinton administration to oversee key Internet policy--the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)--has appointed 57 companies to compete with NSI. About ten of them are operating, although all of them are eligible to sell domain names.

Today's extension will allow NSI and Commerce to resolve a set of contentious issues that so far have held up full-scale competition. Differences include the price NSI may charge competitors for access to the registry, as well as terms of an agreement NSI requires the new registries to sign to tap into the system.

Both the Commerce Department and NSI said negotiations are nearing completion.

"NSI, ICANN, and the Department of Commerce have made great progress in resolving their differences, and the end of those discussions is in sight," Commerce Department official Andy Pincus said in a statement.