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NSI alters InterNIC domain site

The company yields ground in one controversial area as it argues other issues with the Commerce Department, including the price it will charge competitors for access to its database.

The company that is about to lose its sole authority to register domain names ending in ".com" yielded ground today, further modifying the InterNIC Web site it took over last month.

Separately, according to a recently released draft contract, NSI wants to charge each of five "test bed" registrars--the five companies to be named by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that will begin competing with NSI by the end of this month--a $10,000 license fee and $16 per year for each domain name registered. After a trial run with the five initial registrars, ICANN is expected to authorize an unlimited number of accredited registrars to register domain names.

Commerce See Don Telage Newsmaker Department officials are pressing NSI to show that the fees are consistent with its contract, according to a source familiar with the matter. The contract permits NSI to seek reasonable costs in opening up its database.

The latest change to the government-owned InterNIC Web site, which provides bare-bones registration services at a reduced fee, was made as Network Solutions continues to negotiate with Commerce Department officials over a wide range of issues. Chief among the talks have been changes NSI made that caused InterNIC visitors to be redirected to NSI's home page.

The move, made just weeks before NSI is to face competition for the first time in domain name registration, has prompted rivals to complain bitterly that NSI is using an exclusive government contract to compete unfairly. Commerce Department officials said NSI provided no warning that it was making the change and have vowed to inquire whether it violated a 1993 contract that gives NSI sole authority to register the most popular form of domain names.

NSI said it consolidated the sites to better serve its customers, who might be confused by the overlapping services.

Under a change made early this afternoon, InterNIC visitors are sent to a page that explains that InterNIC is a cooperative site between NSI and the U.S. government. It invites users wanting to register a domain name to visit Network Solutions and explains the process in which new registrars will be selected to begin competing against the Herndon, Virginia, company.

NSI declined to comment on the change.

But the change NSI made to InterNIC was not enough to appease some of its most vocal critics, who portrayed it as cosmetic and pointed out that the embedded code automatically redirects users to NSI's home page after 90 seconds.

The change "in fact...further solidifies Network Solutions' hold on the domain registration business by showing that the government has no power (or lacks the knowledge) to make the right thing happen," Larry Erlich, a partner with NSI competitor Domain Registry, wrote in an email message to CNET News.com.

Under the 1993 contract awarded by the National Science Foundation and later transferred to the Commerce Department, NSI has enjoyed a monopoly on the registration of domain names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org." Those extensions grace an estimated 75 percent of the world's domain names and were responsible for the bulk of NSI's $93 million in revenues last year.

Critics say the exclusive arrangement has allowed NSI to reap a windfall while providing poor service. NSI says it delivers good service and that would-be competitors are exaggerating isolated problems.

Under the arrangement, NSI also is responsible for maintaining InterNIC, which experienced domain name consultants use to buy addresses in bulk. Last month, users who pointed their browsers to the site were directed to Network Solutions' home page, which was revamped to incorporate the bare-bones service offerings.

Another issue under discussion is public access to a master list of domain names. NSI maintains that it owns the rights to the so-called zone files, while critics argue that the company merely maintains them for the government.

Commerce Department spokeswoman Becky Burr said the two sides were "making progress" but declined to elaborate.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement on the remaining issues, ICANN's plan to have the five registrars up and running by April 26 may be pushed back, sources said.

But Burr said Commerce Department officials expected to reach an accord in time for the deadline to be met. "We are moving in that direction and have every expectation of reaching accord," she said.