The change, which was made over the weekend but not announced until today, means that Web users who point their browsers to "www.internic.net" are directed to Network Solutions' site.
NSI also made other technical changes that are making life difficult for companies trying to compete with the Herndon, Virginia, firm. The move comes just weeks before NSI is set to lose it government-appointed monopoly to register the most lucrative form of Internet addresses.
"We were not consulted in advance of this change," said Becky Burr, an official who oversees the NSI's contract with the Commerce Department. "We are reviewing the change to make sure it's in compliance with the cooperative agreement."
Under its contract with the U.S. government, NSI must seek written permission from the Commerce Department before implementing major changes in service.
Even as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has forged a roadmap for creating competing registrars, NSI's precise relationship with InterNIC has remained unclear. Under an exclusive contract with the Commerce Department, NSI maintains InterNIC, which provides "bare bones" registry services to Internet service providers and other firms with advanced technical skills.
But NSI and a raft of other companies also provide enhanced "registrar" services aimed at people with little or no technical knowledge. The merging of the two Web sites means that customers seeking out InterNIC will automatically be connected to NSI's Web site, giving the company a leg up on competitors.
"The concern is that customers will be shepherded to Network Solutions' services and products in preference to the ISP that has the customer," said Richard Forman, president of Register.com, a registrar company vying to compete with NSI.
NSI implemented the change to make it easier for end users to register sites, company spokeswoman Cheryl Regan said. She added that those scaled-down services available on the InterNIC site are still available by accessing Network Solutions' site. "It's really just a new face to improve the customer experience," she said.
Under its contract with the U.S. government, NSI owns the contents of the InterNIC database. It appears that the government owns the InterNIC trademark, meaning that only it could object to NSI's move.
NSI also removed Telnet access to the InterNIC WhoIs database, which registries use to tell customers if a domain name is available. The change, which was not announced, made life difficult for registries that use programs to automatically sift through the database.
Within the next few weeks, ICANN will require NSI to open its database to five authorized companies so they can compete with NSI on more equal footing. After a trial run, ICANN is expected to make the database available to any company that qualifies for accreditation.
Even after the plan is in fully implemented, NSI will still maintain the master database and will receive a small percentage of the fees collected by competitors.