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Domain charges crackdown looms

Almost half of registered domain names haven't been paid for, and the company in charge is resorting to snail mail to crack down on deadbeats.

In a crackdown on deadbeats who don't pay for domain name registration, Network Solutions, the company that administers InterNIC Registration Services is changing its billing procedures.

Until now, Network Solutions has depended on email to communicate with its customers. But starting April 14, the company will try a new bill collection method: sending the bill through the U.S. Postal service.

Email is not always reliable, company spokesman Christopher Clough said.

Network Solutions also is considering other options, such as requiring an up-front credit card payment, Clough said.

"We're looking for ways to both streamline the current process and we're looking at ways to go to the prepayment [system]" (much like America Online), he said.

He added that the company also is trying to get deadbeats to pay what they owe.

The problem the company is facing is fairly serious. Of the 1.1 million or so domain names ending in ".com," ".org", ".net," ".edu," and ".gov," only 54 percent have been paid for, said Clough.

"What we're doing now is making efforts to go through the database and bring accounts current," he said. "It's a struggle to deal with exponential growth, just like any other Internet-related company."

Despite the nonpayments problem, domain name registration is a fairly lucrative business at $100 per domain for two years, and others are trying to get in on it.

Image Online Design, for instance, currently registers names in the ".web" alternate domain. It and others are challenging Network Solutions' near-monopoly on domain names by setting up an alternate naming infrastructure.

And as of yesterday the Enhanced Domain Name Service became functional. The consortium was launched as another attempt to compete with Network Solutions, offering domain names that end in top-level domain names, such as .per, .biz, and .web. But first, eDNS will have to get the cooperation of Internet Service Providers to recognize the names, not always an easy task.