business strategy is simple: offer reliable Web site hosting at an affordable price. But for the second time this summer, the InterNIC
--the Internet's official domain registry--has undermined WebCom's service by putting its Net address on hold, possibly leaving thousands of sites inaccessible this weekend.
Access to sites hosted by WebCom was nixed Saturday afternoon when the company's "root zone file" was "accidentally" deleted by InterNIC staff. Root zone files act like the white pages for the top-level domain names, such as ".com," locating a site for a surfer when a Net address is requested.
Thomas Leavitt, WebCom's executive vice president, was paged Saturday evening to address the problem but said he couldn't reach an appropriate person who could help. The thought of WebCom's 5,800 sites being out the for at least two days had him boiling mad.
"The InterNIC does not have the customer service infrastructure in place to run a 'mission-critical' service like this," Leavitt said today. "It is absurd that they are the single point of failure for DNS [Domain Name System] for the entire Internet, yet if there is a technical problem there is no way a person can contact them outside their help desk hours to get it resolved, or even to inform them that it occurred."
InterNIC finally responded on Sunday, he added, after a faithful WebCom customer living in Virginia personally went to Network Solutions, which oversees the registry. The WebCom devotee reportedly hounded the security staff to locate a company contact person. Soon after, Leavitt received an apologetic phone call from a Network Solutions representative who promised the problem would be fixed and would not happen again.
WebCom has heard Network Solutions' promises before. In July, the Web host became inaccessible after an alleged fax on WebCom letterhead was sent to the InterNIC requesting that the domain be canceled. Leavitt said the fax was forged. After service was reinstated, he was told by Network Solutions that the domain service would not be removed again without verbal confirmation from himself or another WebCom executive.
Network Solutions says Saturday's temporary erasure was unplanned, so no one would have been contacted at WebCom. "There were some files that contained old information that were scheduled for deletion. The WebCom file was being held in a special status and was inadvertently picked up and became part of that deletion process, which was scheduled to happen over the weekend," Chris Clough, director of communications for Network Solutions, said today. "The team immediately recognized the error and regenerated the root zone files to include WebCom on Sunday."
Moreover, Clough said, Network Solutions reacted quickly to WebCom's pleas for help. "There were something like ten people contacted who responded to WebCom. There is always somebody there to answer the phone over the weekend."
WebCom's domain wasn't fully accessible until around 8 p.m. Sunday, but prior to that, the company exploited a bug in the Domain Name System that let it "reintroduce WebCom's DNS information to major service providers' servers." The same tactic was used by the AlterNIC when it redirected the InterNIC's traffic to its site last month. (See related story)
Still, some of WebCom's 4,000 customers were affected by the InterNIC's mistake. "I have several sites on WebCom," said Thomas Winzig, one customer. "In this case, only my personal site was affected. However, besides our Web sites being affected, our email was also affected."
The erasure of the WebCom domain is symbolic of a bigger problem, Leavitt contended. For example, on July 17, Net traffic was slowed throughout the world when a Network Solutions database corrupted ".com" and ".net" files.
The registry has a monopoly on doling out domain names under a contract with the National Science Foundation that expires in March 1998. Critics of Network Solutions' business practices are eager for more choices.
"As of now, we have no other choice. There is no alternative to the InterNIC. So no matter how enraged or livid we are, we can't take our business elsewhere and have our same top-level domain name," Leavitt said.