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Internet

Web deadbeats to get identity crisis

About 25,000 domain names are being wiped out because their owners haven't paid up.

For the first time in a long while, the Internet is getting smaller.

The company in charge of assigning and administering domain names is getting set to erase about 25,000 monikers from cyberspace a week from today because their owners haven't paid their $100 registration fees.

Network Solutions has been in charge of handing out new domain names since 1993 under a contract with the National Science Foundation. At first the registration process was free, but as the task got bigger and commercial companies became more involved in securing domain names that matched their brand names, the government last fall gave the company the green light to charge Net users for their names, $100 for the first two years and $50 each year thereafter.

But roughly 50 percent of the more than 400,000 existing domain names haven't been paid for and Network Solutions is ready to retaliate by discontinuing the registration. Deactivated domains will be held in an inactive queue for 60 days to give their owners a chance to pay up and reclaim them. Otherwise, the domain goes onto the "available" list, according to Network Solutions representative David Graves.

Users who try to log on to discontinued sites that use the name or send email to people who have the name in their email addresses will get error messages. And the names will be up for grabs again.

The decision is indicative of the increased commercialization of a resource that once existed as a cozy insider's club: share and share alike, no fees, no bureaucracy, and definitely no punishments. But as of last year, SAIC Network Solutions--the prefix was added after the company was acquired by military contractor SAIC--has gotten increasingly tough about the registration process. Domain name owners are getting more aggressive about protecting their brand identity on the Internet, even to the point where bidding wars for desirable domain names have broken out.

Most of the domains scheduled for termination are in fact probably no longer in use. For those still in operation, however, their users are in for a surprise.

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