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RealTime IT News

Network Solutions Contract Deadline Looms

Friday was supposed to be a major milestone in opening up competition in domain registration -- a day when testing of the new shared registration system built by Network Solutions was to be completed by the initial five accredited registrars.

But so far, only register.com has come online. And Network Solutions appears to be locked in a stalemate with the Department of Commerce over its contractual obligation to give up control of its monopoly position.

One reason for the delay appears to be technical. According to Mike Roberts, acting president of the Internet Corp. For Assigned Names And Numbers, the non-profit organization set up to shepherd in domain competition, the shared registration system delivered by NSI didn't work according to specs, thus making it difficult for registrars to connect and come online. Even register.com has not fully support some aspects of the system, such as the transfer of domain registrations between registrars.

Besides the test-bed period extension, Network Solutions and the government are also negotiating several other open items. One key issue is the price registrars will pay to NSI for entering registrations in its registry database. Another outstanding matter is whether NSI is obligated to sign by Friday an accredation agreement that would put it on equal legal footing with other registrars.

"This is a fairly significant political moment of truth for the relationship between the government and Network Solutions," Roberts said.

Network Solutions spokesperson Brian O'Shaughnessy Thursday confirmed that the company is in ongoing discussions with the Department of Commerce about extending the test-bed period, but he wouldn't reveal NSI's position on the matters under discussion.

The company is however firmly set against signing an accredation agreement with ICANN.

"Our position is that we do not have to become an accredited registrar by the end of the testbed. We believe its actually a licensing agreement which gives ICANN broader authority into the business decisions of Network Solutions. So it's not really in our interests to sign such an agreement."

Department of Commerce officials didn't respond Thursday to requests for information about the talks. One possible outcome is that the government will approve a limited extension to the test-bed period in order to enable all five registrars to come online.

Such a delay would work to NSI's advantage in several ways. For one thing, it would allow the company to hold onto its monopoly a bit longer. An extension could also buy NSI time to step up recent congressional lobbying efforts aimed at challenging ICANN's policy authority.

But continued delays in opening competition could raise the ire of ICANN's European board members and other non-US Internet stakeholders. Already, some Internet users abroad are said to be growing exasperated with the US government's deferential handling of its contractor, Network Solutions.

Look for ICANN to mount its own congressional lobbying campaign. Sources said several prominent Internet companies intend to join forces in support of ICANN on Capitol Hill.