Just months before the National Science Foundation was to rid itself of its involvement in the domain name registration business, PGMedia amended its antitrust lawsuit over the registration system to include the government organization.
Under an exclusive agreement with NSF, Network Solutions registers second-level domain names, such as those associated with the ".com," ".edu," ".net," and ".org," like the "news" in "www.news.com."
Network Solutions, which operates the central directory, or root zone file, that domain names must be a part of in order to be recognized globally, said it believes that it has ownership rights to this database and is seeking to protect such rights. But others dispute that claim, saying that the database belongs in the public domain because it was developed under a government agreement.
PGMedia is one such company. Earlier this year, PGMedia filed an antitrust lawsuit against Network Solutions in an attempt to have its name servers and top-level domains added to the root zone file.
PGMedia said it had reached an agreement with Network Solutions to add the names to the file after a series of discussions, but there was one caveat: Network Solutions said it needed the NSF to approve the agreement as well.
"After months of negotiations, NSI made a proposal for settlement, [but the National Science Foundation interjected, telling them not to settle]," said Paul Garrin, president, CEO, and founder of PGMedia. "To act at this time, [the NSF] was asserting authority, and our company is being harmed because we can't compete."
"We do what we are told by the NSF," said Philip Sbarbaro, outside general council for Network Solutions. "I can't comment on settlement negotiations, but when you'd like to do a certain thing but your boss says no, you can't do it."
The amendment to the lawsuit comes at a time when the deadline for coming up with a viable alternative to the current domain name registration system is fast approaching. The agreement between Network Solutions and the NSF expires in March 1998.
Possible competitors to Network Solutions are trying to get a foot in the door before another solution is decided.
Last month, the Commerce Department's request for public comment on administration of the Internet's domain naming system drew about 300 filed responses. Hundreds of PGMedia supporters spammed the federal agency with identical petitions in support of the company's commercial system that allows limitless new top-level domains, such as ".web."
Meanwhile, Network Solutions is trying to launch an initial public offering and is scheduled to go public later this month.