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Internet

Registrar readies for competition

Network Solutions revamps its domain name billing system and launches a service to help smaller businesses register their names.

Network Solutions (NSOL), the company charged with registering the most popular domain names, is getting ready for competition.

Today the company announced that it is revamping its sometimes maligned domain name billing system and it also is launching a new service, dubbed WorldNic, to help small and medium-sized businesses register their names. Currently many of those customers pay outside companies to register domain names instead of going through the cumbersome process themselves.

Both moves will help Network Solutions stay competitive as the government prepares to privatize the domain name system.

Network Solutions currently holds a contract with the National Science Foundation to register the most popular top-level domain names, ".com," ".net," ".org," and ".edu."

But its official contract runs out in March and others are nipping at its heels for a chance at the lucrative and powerful market of domain name registration.

One such group, the Interim Policy Oversight Committee (IPOC), is moving ahead with plans to add and register seven new top-level domain names. Today, the group announced it is proposing an expansion to its board to include 20 members, after receiving criticism for being too closed.

But criticism--and confusion--tend to be the hallmarks of the domain name system, which is a solid example of just how murky the waters are when it comes to bigger questions, such as who runs the Internet.

The United States government has said it wants to privatize the domain name system, but some fear that if it doesn't act carefully and isn't clear where and with whom authority resides for resolving domain name issues, the Net could be plunged into chaos.

Until the government decides how the transition will work, Network Solutions is still at the helm. And today's move clearly signals it intends to, at the very least, stay competitive.

Providing a new billing system from one of the top income-generating sites on the Net is a shrewd business move. The new system, based on an Oracle platform, will be "one of the world's largest Internet-based transaction billing systems," according to Network Solutions.

The system is built to handle complex international transactions as well as prepayments, said David Holtzman, Network Solutions' senior vice president of engineering. Network Solutions had come under criticism for failing to collect on its bills, but Holtzman said the company already addressed those problems.

Along with the billing system, the launch of WorldNic will allow Network Solutions to slice away at competitors that use the clunky domain name registration process as a way to generate business. Companies charge anywhere from a nominal fee to several hundred dollars to register domain names for others.

Although anyone can go to the InterNIC and register the pages themselves for $100 (for two years), the process can be confusing. And it also requires the registrant to have a domain name service number, something that Internet providers will only give out if they are hosting a page.

Through WorldNic, however, Network Solutions promises an easy-to-use interface, and it also will not require people to come with their own DNS number. That way, people who just want to reserve a domain name can do so, Holtzman said.

The service will launch next month. Holtzman said the fee will be a "small markup."