NSF prepares to bow out of domain name management

The National Science Foundation, facing a rapidly expanding, commercially oriented Internet, is preparing to bow out of domain name management, according to a report made public this week.

The National Science Foundation, facing a rapidly expanding, commercially oriented Internet, is preparing to bow out of domain name management, according to a report made public this week.

"The Internet is no longer primarily a medium for the exchange of information among computer networks in the scientific community -- the original reason for NSF involvement," according to a statement issued late this week by Joseph Bordogna, acting deputy director of the NSF.

"NSF is confident the Internet community and others will eventually develop mechanisms to handle Internet registration without NSF's involvement," according to the statement.

As the Internet grows by leaps and bounds beyond its original scientific audience, the issue of how domain names should be issued and managed has become one of the hottest topics in cyberspace.

The NSF, a US government agency, has awarded responsibility -- and a US$5 million grant -- to Network Solutions, a private company in Herndon, Virginia, to assign domain names. NSI also charges a US$100 fee to register domain names, which feature the tags (such as .com, .edu) for underlying Internet addresses. But the arrangement has come under attack as companies involved in the online world increasingly realize that domain names have monetary and intellectual property value.

In the statement, the NSF’s Bordogna says that the NSF has no plans to renew the arrangement when it ends in March 1998. In fact, the arrangement may be ended earlier, upon mutual agreement between the NSF and NSI, if other methods of domain name registration can be implemented. Several proposals have been floated by the Internet Society, which is an international nonprofit organisation, and the American Registry for Internet Numbers, a US-based, nonprofit association.

Last month, New York-based PGP Media added fuel to the Internet domain-name fire, filing a complaint in US District Court, Southern District of New York, against NSI. It charged that the company, along with other Internet-related organisations, is violating antitrust laws by exclusively controlling the assignment of domain names.

It was in this atmosphere that the NSF’s Bordogna examined a report, filed in February, by the NSF’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which offered recommendations on how to handle domain name registration and management in the future. The Inspector General’s report, along with Bordogna’s response, was made public this week.

The OIG report recommends continued government oversight through federal administration of current Internet registration and the imposition of an excise tax on registration. It also calls for a regulatory structure to be created within the NSF or through some other new, government organisation or independent commission. Several of the proposed options would require additional federal legislation or a significant increase in federal personnel, according to Bordogna.

"We do not believe, however, that such regulation and taxation are appropriate functions for the National Science Foundation," according to Bordogna’s statement.

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