For the past six years, Herndon, Virginia-based Network Solutions has issued the university addresses, which end in ".edu," for free under a cooperative agreement awarded by the federal government. The arrangement also gave the registrar a monopoly in the more lucrative registration of names that end in ".com," ".net," and ".org," which account for an estimated 75 percent of the world's Internet addresses.
For the past year a very public and frequently contentious effort has been underway to open up the registration of ".com," ".net," and ".org" domains, which have generated millions of dollars in revenue for NSI. But so far, efforts by a nonprofit company called Educause to take over the ".edu" space have largely gone unnoticed.
Educause, which represents the information technology interests of about 1,600 universities, has ties to the nonprofit organization tapped by the Commerce Department to take over many of the Net's critical underpinnings. Mike Roberts, interim president of that organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), formerly managed Educom, which merged with another nonprofit last year to form Educause.
Mark Luker, vice president of Educause, said it only makes sense for his organization to take control of the domain given the current move to privatize the Internet.
"We're the ones that built the original campus networks and operate them today," Luker said. "The members of Educause are essentially the members of the '.edu' domain."
A Network Solutions spokesman declined to comment on the proposal.
It remains unclear whether Educause is the most appropriate group to take control of the domain. Educause members are almost all based in the United States; Network Solutions says 22 percent of those holding ".edu" addresses are based abroad. In addition, Educause represents only a fraction of those who hold ".edu" domains.
Luker also held out the possibility that his group, should it begin administering the names, might charge a small fee to do so. NSI provides the names for free.
Luker, however, downplayed those concerns, saying the group is open to making changes. He also said the group is pushing to change the eligibility criteria preventing community colleges and other two-year organizations from registering the domains.
He added that turning the domain over to a group that is representative of the organizations that holds it will ultimately preserve the nonprofit nature of ".edu," even if there is a small fee attached.