The directory had been scheduled to go live today, but NSI said it was still putting finishing touches on the site, at Dotcomdirectory.com, and expected to have it up and running "in a matter of days."
The impending launch of the directory comes as NSI faces competition for the first time in the registration of the most popular form of domain names. A 1992 cooperative agreement allowed the Herndon, Virginia-based company to carve out a multimillion-dollar business as the sole registrar of addresses ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org," which account for up to 75 percent of the world's domain names.
The Dot Com Directory is designed to give registrants a strong incentive to continue registering domain names with NSI, even as new competitors enter the market. Listings in the service, touted as giving businesses a leg up over competitors who are not included, are free to those who get their names from NSI. Those who buy addresses from NSI competitors will have to pay $119, the company said.
"It's very difficult to find anything on the Internet," Douglas Wolford, NSI's senior vice president of marketing and sales, said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. "If [the directory] helps users to find businesses, it also helps businesses to be found."
But the upcoming launch has also prompted the Commerce Department to publicly reiterate its concern over NSI's claim that it owns the data behind the 5.3 million domain names NSI registered under its exclusive contract with the federal government. Specifically, the agency, which is charged with enforcing NSI's cooperative agreement, has objected to restrictions NSI has put on the use of data contained in the files it maintains.
"We strongly object to NSI's restrictive policy with respect to access to [the registration data], a policy that appears effectively to insulate the 'Dot Com Directory' against any real competition," Commerce Department general counsel Andrew Pincus wrote in a letter addressed to Jim Rutt, NSI's new chief executive.
NSI now provides access to its so-called Whois and zone files only if users agree not to use the information for commercial purposes. Pincus said NSI had no legal authority to do so.
Wolford, however, argued that NSI had broad rights to control the information. "Our customer database is our customer database--that's as much our data as [America Online's] customer data," Wolford said. He added that NSI and the Commerce Department continue to negotiate over the restrictions.
The service will allow Web users to search for businesses by name, and will return a description of products and services offered, financial news, a listing of its various subsidiaries and satellite offices, maps, and other information. It was launched with search technology from Vicinity and Inktomi.
Under a plan outlined last year by the Commerce Department, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is assuming responsibility for running a number of the Internet's core functions and overseeing the transition to a shared registration system. Right now there are only three "test bed" registrars competing with NSI, but the dominant registrar is expected to face dozens of new competitors once the trial phase ends.
News.com's Beth Lipton contributed to this report.