What's in a Domain Name?

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: The Justice Department is investigating whether Network Solutions, the company that handles most Internet domain name registrations, is guilty of violating antitrust laws. Since taking over the job of collecting fees to register and maintain the five top domain names used in the U.S. (.com, .net, .gov, .edu and .org) from the National Science Foundation in 1995, Network Solutions has come under increasing criticism as a monopoly that charges unreasonably high registration prices and delivers poor service. The company currently charges $100 for an initial two-year registration, and $50 annually to renew. Of that money, 30 percent goes to a fund designated for the "preservation and enhancement" of the Internet, and 70 percent goes into the pockets of Network Solutions. The company points out that it is not the only registration game around; other countries have their own registries. But the crucial issue is the availability of Websites under names that users have come to expect. While TIME, for example, could certainly register in Switzerland as time.com.ch, most users would look for it under the more obvious time.com. It is these well-established domain names that Network Solutions says it has the right to control even after its deal with NSF expires next year. Given that Network solutions has so far registered 1.3 million domain names, and is adding more every day, that leaves the company with an annuity of at least $45.5 million just for doing a modest amount of paperwork. The Justice Department wonders whether it shouldn't have a little competition.