25,000 domain names disappear in 'Net spring cleaning

Next Monday, 25,000 individual, corporate and non-profit Web sites and email addresses will disappear from the Internet as a result of an audit by a US government contractor.

As in the real world, if you don't pay your taxes in the virtual world, the government is bound to ferret you out.

Less than a week from now, 25,000 individual, corporate and non-profit Web sites and email addresses will disappear from the Internet as a result of an audit by SAIC Network Solutions.

Network Solutions, a government contractor whose role since 1993 has been to register and monitor domain names on the 'Net, runs InterNIC, the organisation one must go through in order to obtain an internet domain name, or the personalised address that follows the "www" in a Web URL. Users are required to pay InterNIC an initial fee of US$100 for the first two years, and then a yearly sum of US$50 thereafter to keep their domain names up and running, according to David Graves, Internet business manager for Network Solutions. About 25,000 people who have not made their payments will lose the right to those names as of next Monday if they fail to pay in the next week.

The non-paying users were notified by fax, email and postal mail during the past several months that their domain names would expire if payment was not made, says Graves. The company has extended its hours of operation in order to handle what it hopes will be a huge volume of callers out to save their domain names, says Graves.

As of Monday July 24, users attempting to access the frozen URLs will receive the message, "The server name does not have a DNS entry. Check the server name in the location and try again". Users will also not be able to send or receive email from addresses with one of the deactivated domain name extensions.

Even though nearly half of all people having paid for domain names are now behind on their payments, Network Solutions has not, until now, decided to delete any names, according to Graves. "We're hoping by putting out this announcement that people will get in touch with us immediately to pay for their domain names, and if they don't, it will allow us to purge thousands of unused names and make them available to other people," says Graves.

Network Solutions initially did not charge to register domain names, but began doing so in September, 1995, after the US$1 million a year budgeted to it from the National Science Foundation became too small a sum to handle the administration of the thousands of requests per week for domain names, according to the company.

"We registered 430 domain names in April 1993 and 45,000 in April 1996, so it is obvious that the original estimate of the funds required was no longer compatible with reality," says Graves.

In addition, the NSF wasn't prepared to allocate that much of its budget to domain name registration, nor was it particularly interested, as a government agency, in buoying up the commercial .com registrations which represented the largest portion of new requests.

Network Solutions is currently bringing in US$3 million a month, according to Graves, and its defacto monopoly on domain name registration is valued at more than US$1 billion, with the government contract not up for renewal until 1998.

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