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NSF probes Net addressing

The government has completed an investigation of the way Internet resources are managed.

    In the face of a growing chorus of complaints about the way Net names and addresses are handed out, the government has completed an investigation of the way Internet resources are managed, CNET has learned.

    The National Science Foundation's Office of the Inspector General--an independent investigative agency within the NSF--prepared the report, which makes recommendations for reforming Internet address allocations. Internet addresses are made up of two parts: the domain name (as in "") and the numerical IP address that underlies that name.

    The report is expected to be released after the director of the NSF has drafted a formal response, said an NSF spokeswoman, who refused to elaborate on the specifics of the report. The spokeswoman added she could not predict when the report will be made public and was unable to say if it would address both domain names and IP numberss.

    Most Internet names and addresses are currently assigned by government contractor Network Solutions under the auspices of the NSF's InterNIC cooperative working agreement and grant.

    Network Solutions, which received $5 million from the NSF for providing these services, also recently began charging for registering domain names and has set forth a plan that would charge for the numerical addresses behind those names. The Internet Assigned Names Authority has also created a committee charged with creating more commercial domain names that would compete with the ".com" domain, one of several Network Solutions already administers.

    Critics have charged that Network Solutions is trying to keep the lucrative name and registration business to itself after its NSF contract expires next year. Network Solutions has stated it supports the committee's efforts to expand registries.

    Critics have also said the process of assigning the numerical IP addresses behind domain names suffers from cronyism, a charge the contractor's employees have also denied. Both Network Solutions and IANA are involved in assigned IP numbers.

    Network Solutions recently drafted a plan to move the administration of IP addresses to a nonprofit organization that would earn potentially millons of dollars from selling the numbers. Yet neither Network Solutions nor the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the proposed nonprofit, has clearly outlined where that money would be spent, by whom, or to what end.

    Network Solutions counters that the plan is only a working document. Those issues will be resolved by rules written by ARIN's board, which will be appointed by Network Solutions.

    Sources inside the NSF said no matter what the report recommends, OIG reports rarely have much impact on NSF operations. The NSF's Federal Networking Council Advisory Committee recently passed a resolution urging the NSF to turn over the processes to another government regulatory body.

    The Federal Communications Commission has been informally approached about the possibility, according to Kevin Werbach, counsel in the FCC's office of plans and policy, but the subject has not received any formal consideration at this point, he said.