New Unit Takes over Internet Oversight

By Mary Beth Regan Cox News Service | THE JOURNAL RECORD, October 5, 1998 | Go to article overview

New Unit Takes over Internet Oversight


Mary Beth Regan Cox News Service, THE JOURNAL RECORD


WASHINGTON -- When cyberspace was young, legendary engineer Jon Postel used to keep track of all the Internet addresses worldwide in a notebook. These days, it takes a major U.S. company with more than 150 employees working around the clock to register as many as 7,000 new sites each day.

But in coming weeks, this company, Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) in Herndon, Va., will lose its exclusive agreement with the U.S. government to register top-level domain names, those catchy Web addresses ending in .com, .org or .net that are popping up on everything from shirts to billboards.

This paperwork shift marks a much larger change. Under pressure from around the globe, the U.S. government is getting out of the business of managing the Internet. Instead, a group of international scientists and business leaders have formed a private, nonprofit corporation to make future decisions about how the Internet is managed -- everything from how addresses are assigned to technical standards for new equipment. And the market for top-level Internet addresses will be opened to competition. "This is a major transition," said Postel, who heads the University of Southern California's Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). "We're moving from a government research project to a commercially funded organization to manage the Internet." The casual Web surfer might not notice a difference. But the transfer likely will result in an explosion of companies moving into the Internet registration business. And these competitors are expected to push for dozens of new top-level addresses by as early as next September. What's more, any e-commerce company or Internet service provider will rely on this new nonprofit, rather than a government organization, to assure the technical stability and security of the Internet. The Internet began as a research project at the Defense Department to link scientists, and for the past 30 years, the federal government has played a central role in its growth. But in 1992, Congress voted to allow commercial activity, and a global explosion of access and commerce ensued. The number of people online has risen sharply from about 4 million worldwide in 1993, at the birth of the World Wide Web, to about 100 million today. The number may reach 1 billion by 2005. Business conducted online is now estimated at $70 billion a year, and is projected to hit $300 billion by 2002. The information technology industry is responsible for one-third of the real growth of the U.S. economy over the past three years, according to the Commerce Department. "We're on the verge of the digital economy," said Ira C. Magaziner, a senior policy adviser to President Clinton. "How we manage the Internet will lay the foundation for the future." In recent years, the publicly traded NSI and nonprofit IANA have shared the job of managing the Internet. The Herndon company assigns top-level domains, about 75 percent of all addresses. (The other 25 percent are country codes, such as .uk, managed by private companies or governments.) IANA, in turn, assigns numerical codes that correspond to all addresses. Together, they let Web surfers get from one site to the next. In addition, NSI employees maintain a powerful computer server that is the virtual heart of the Internet. Each night , NSI employees enter every new or changed Internet address on this machine, known to engineers as Root Server A. When they have finished, 12 other main servers dial in from around the globe to download the new information. …

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