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Network Solutions appoints new CEO

The world's dominant ".com" registrar taps James Rutt to be its chief executive officer.

The world's dominant ".com" registrar, Network Solutions, today tapped James Rutt to be its chief executive officer.

Formerly chief technology officer of the Thomson Corporation, a $6 billion publishing and information services company, Rutt also cofounded First Call, a well-known online investment service.

Rutt replaces interim See Don Telage Newsmaker CEO Michael Daniels, who is Network Solutions' chairman. Gabriel Battista stepped down in November, walking away from $24 million in stock options, to join Tel-Save, a long distance company that has a pact with America Online to offer discounted phone service to AOL's customers.

Equipped with a business and high-tech background, Rutt spearheaded many of his past employers' segues to the Net. He also understands the value of a domain name in the so-called new economy: He registered "JimRutt.com" in 1995 and gave brothers--a police officer and construction company manager--their own Net addresses for Christmas.

"I've been involved with thinking out complex business strategies for a long time," Rutt said in an interview. "I've also got a very strong technical background, so the techies can't put one over on me."

For more than six years Network Solutions has enjoyed an exclusive government contract to register the Net's top-level domain names, including ".com," ".net," and ".org." However, under a revised agreement with the Commerce Department, NSI now has to share its so-called root servers with hopeful competitors.

This process is at the center of an international policy shift over how to manage the Net's domain name and numerical address systems. A nonprofit corporation, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was recognized by Commerce and other governments to administer these critical functions and will hold a meeting in Berlin tomorrow as part of its ongoing--and controversial--attempt to set up a new governance system.

Rutt is the first to admit that he needs to be brought up to speed on the contentious political debate surrounding domain names.

"I do not have a background in Net politics, although I have been a watcher," he said. "I don't have a dog in any of the fights, so I'll bring a look as a user of the Net for the last 15 years."

According to observers, ICANN's only real power is through its contracts with the registries it recognizes to compete with NSI. But NSI also has contracts with those companies and has yet to sign an agreement with ICANN.

Analysts often say that despite market changes, NSI remains at the top of its game. The company still owns the Net's home base--the ".com" Root A server--and competitors have to pay NSI for access to its registration system and comply with its usage rules.

Rutt says his first goal is to keep NSI ahead of the pack.

"In the short term the challenge we all have is getting ready to win the competitive wars," he said. "Then the ongoing strategy is take advantage of opportunities around us and to leverage [our assets]."

However, along with NSI's success comes a minefield of issues. NSI, one of the most closely watched Net companies, also is the focus of a renewed antitrust probe by the Justice Department over its control of a database that not only maps out Net addresses but also contains the business contacts behind more than 3.5 million domain names.

Rutt wouldn't comment on the government's investigation. Nonetheless, NSI has been rolling out new services to be more than just a domain name registrar, a course it will look to Rutt to chart further.

"Jim's deep understanding of online information businesses will be a tremendous asset building on our growing business model, and leading us into new identity services and e-commerce solutions," Daniels said in a statement.