Dispute Over Granting of Internet Names Resolved

WASHINGTON -- Peace broke has broken out on one of the Internet's fiercest battlegrounds.

U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley announced an agreement Tuesday to resolve the divisive fight over the future of the Internet's "domain names" system - the master list of plain-English names (such as "washingtonpost.com") for millions of sites on the World Wide Web.

Under the agreement, the company that currently has the government's approval to maintain the list, Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Virgina, will retain control over the database for four years. The deal may allow the company to continue to dominate the market for registering domain names, for which it currently charges $35 a year.

In return, NSI will give $1.25 million to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, the cash-strapped nonprofit organization set up by President Bill Clinton's administration to assume the government's remaining authority over the Internet.

The agreement will speed the process of breaking NSI's government-granted monopoly over issuing domain names ending in .com, .net and .org. And NSI agreed to recognize ICANN's authority over many of the administrative functions of the World Wide Web, ending a fight that threatened to destabilize the burgeoning online medium.

"This is a landmark day for the Internet," Daley said. "Most importantly, we worked this out at the negotiating table, not in a courtroom, where we could have idled the Internet - the engine of growth in today's economy."

Other observers were more cautiously optimistic. "The devil is in both the details and in the way that people perform," said David Farber, an Internet pioneer and professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania. "I'm enthusiastic that at least they got this far - no train crash."

The U.S. government had historically controlled the technical aspects of the Internet. In 1992, the National Science Foundation entered into a cooperative agreement with Network Solutions to take over the duties of assigning and managing Internet domain addresses;

NSI has registered more than 5 million domain names, its main source of revenue. The company posted $11.2 million in profits last year on revenue of almost $94 million.