National Science Foundation Is Added
To Lawsuit on Domain Names
By JERI CLAUSING
ASHINGTON - A federal judge on Thursday forced the
National Science Foundation
into a lawsuit over Internet domain-name
registrations, making the government party to an
antitrust case that seeks to answer the elusive
question of who really controls the Internet.
Whether the judge, Robert P. Patterson of United States
District Court for the Southern District of
New York, will really provide the answer is another question.
But the case exemplifies the
complexities of the international battles brewing over
Internet control as the National Science
Foundation tries to get out of the Internet registration
Currently, generic top-level domains, or gTLDs (for example
".org" and ".net"), are handled exclusively by a Virginia
Network Solutions Inc., under a contract with the National
Foundation. But the Clinton administration has said it wants the
Internet to govern itself and that it will let that contract
So while the international Internet community has been
struggling to reach consensus on the best way
to turn the registration system from what is essentially a
government-controlled monopoly to a more
open-competitive system, PGMedia, a New York company sued
Network Solutions seeking access to
the root server so it can use its software to offer
registrations with unlimited domain addresses.
Network Solutions declined, saying its hands were tied under
its agreement with the National Science
Foundation. The foundation in two letters this summer
specifically instructed Network Solutions not
to add any new top-level domains, saying it and other federal
agencies currently are negotiating the
best way to hand the registration process over to the private
Internet community for self-governance.
The addition of any domains at this time would be
"destabilizing and premature," the foundation said.
"PGMedia has consistently contended that the NSF has no more
of a place in this debate than any
other interested party, and could not act to arbitrarily
limit speech in the top-level name space even if it
did," PGMedia said in announcing that it was successful in
getting Patterson to add NSF as a
defendant in its case. "In June and again in August of this
year, the NSF informed NSI that the NSF
controlled the root zone file, and that the NSF could not
allow NSI to comply with Federal and state
antitrust laws in granting PGMedia's reasonable request."
The National Science
Foundation declined to comment on
the matter. A spokesman,
William Noxon, said the
agency does not comment on
A lawyer for Network
Solutions, Philip L. Sbarbaro of
Hanson & Molloy, called it
"unfortunate that PG Media
has chosen to sue the
National Science Foundation.
However, under the
cooperative agreement with the
NSF, NSI consults with the
NSF and has always taken
direction from the NSF in such matters."
PGMedia contends that NSI, not NSF, has control over the
Internet's root server.
"That is the big picture of the issue," said Michael Donovan,
a lawyer for PGMedia, "...whether the
U.S. government controls the root of the Internet. Whoever
controls the root controls the Net."
A Network Solutions spokesman, Christopher Clough, said the
National Science Foundation has
made it clear in correspondence with his company on the
matter that "they are in charge of adding new
TLDs. NSI had previously sought direction from the IANA on
this matter but was informed by
IANA's legal counsel that IANA did not have any legal
authority to direct the addition of new TLDs."
So who is in charge?
That seems to be the million-dollar questions as an
international body seeks to carry the Generic
Top-Level Domain Memorandum of Understanding, which would add
seven generic top level
domains and create an international system of competing
registrars regulated by a nonprofit group in
David Maher, chairman of the Interim Policy Oversight
Committee carrying out that controversial plan,
said that PGMedia's suit "illustrates the need and the
urgency for a stable system to administer the root
servers and the other work that has been done by the
International Assigned Numbers Authority."
Many close to the debate questioned whether the PGMedia case
will have any real impact on the final
outcome of the international registration debate.
"I think a lawsuit is by far not the best way to find a
solution to bring stability to the system," Maher
said. "The system is global, and even though the NSF has
provided funds for NSI under the original
contract, it affects far more that the U.S. government."
Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
-Toa Te Ching