The cost of getting online looks like it's going up again.
For example, the domain name "cnet.com" masks a numeric Internet Protocol address. The domain name system makes it simpler to send email or locate a Web site by name, rather than by a number up to 12 digits long, such as 188.8.131.52.
Under Network Solutions' plan, a new nonprofit organization called the American Registry for Internet Numbers would replace the government-subsidized InterNIC IP group. North American ISPs would be hit with fees ranging from $2,500 up to $20,000 for blocks of IP numbers that they now receive for free and parcel out to their users.
The plan would not affect individual users unless the ISPs chose to pass along the additional costs. But nonprofits, free community networks, and others that do not charge for Internet access would have to pay.
"They all have operational fees today," said Jon Postel, head of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which oversees all three of the world's Internet number assigning authorities, including the InterNIC IP group. "It's just another operational expense."
It is the IANA as well as the National Science Foundation that would have to approve Network Solutions' plan before it would go into effect.
The proposal is not clear about how the registry would spend the thousands and possibly millions of dollars it would take in each year if the plan goes through. The proposal did say that the executive director, chosen by the board of trustees, would receive a salary determined by the board.
Network Solutions' representatives could not be reached for comment. But IANA's Postel says that Net addresses must be treated like the airwaves.
"Address space is a kind of a public resource like the airwaves," he said. "There are certain bands set aside for CB radio, but if you want to be a powerful radio station, you have to go through a much more complicated licensing procedure."
But unlike the airwaves, Internet address space is public resource that is parceled out without any governmental oversight, whereas the Federal Communications Commission oversees spectrum allocation.
Postel thinks the lack of such oversight is a good thing. "You think about the FCC procedures and how long it takes to get a decision out of them on anything," Postel said. "I'm not sure you'd want them involved."
Only companies and individuals capable of paying a $1,000 per year in fees will be allowed to participate in forming American Registry's policies. By contrast, any U.S. citizen has the right to file comments with the FCC about communications policies.
The American Registry's five-member board of trustees would be initially selected by Network Solutions. Future boards would in their turn be selected by the board that Network Solutions had picked, giving the private company an unprecedented influence over the assignment of increasingly scarce IP numbers. The IP numbering system is reaching its limits and plans are currently being considered to extend it.