Network Solutions hit with suit from C/Net
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 97 00:36:03 -0800
Subject: Network Solutions hit with suit from C/Net
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Network Solutions hit with suit
By Margie Wylie
March 20, 1997, 3:45 p.m. PT
<Picture: Just In>Network Solutions has been accused of violating antitrust
laws through its exclusive sale of commercial Internet domain names.
PGP Media this morning filed a suit in a New York court alleging that the
partially government-funded Network Solutions has conspired with several
other Internet groups to set up artificial barriers to competition in the
selling of Internet domain names and maintain monopoly control of the
market. The International Ad Hoc Committee, the Internet Assigned Names
Authority (IANA) and its director, Jon Postel, the Internet Society (ISOC),
and unnamed "control persons" are named as "nonparty coconspirators" in the
According to the complaint, which has not yet been formally served on
Network Solutions, the company is using its historical control of Internet
"root servers" to preclude competition in domain name service. Root servers
are computers that act like switchboard operators, matching up familiar
network names, like "cnet.com" with the location of that Net resource, like
a Web site, email server, or gopher server.
At issue is a small database file, the "config file," that resides on these
11 root servers scattered across the world. The first step in "resolving" a
domain name system address, the config file acts something like a directory
of area codes. It contains a listing of every officially sanctioned
top-level domain, the usually three-letter suffix on a domain name. Network
Solutions issues names in seven top-level domains, including ".com,"
".net," and ".gov."
A top-level domain not listed in the official root servers is virtually
unreachable. By refusing to list top-level domains other than its own,
Network Solutions keeps out competition, the complaint alleges.
PGP Media's own domain naming service, called name.space, can't operate on
the Internet without access to the config file on the Internet's official
root servers. The company is asking that the court force Network Solutions
to list name.space's top-level domains, such as ".camera," in the official
root servers in addition to minimum damages of $1 million.
"The same as AT&T was forced to give MCI access to its phone wires, Network
Solutions should be forced to give us access to the config file," said
Michael J. Donovan, the attorney representing PGP Media in the case. "It's
property my clients need access to in order to compete. We can't recreate
this; to do so would mean we have to recreate the Internet."
PGP Media asserts that despite Network Solutions's InterNIC agreement, an
exclusive cooperative agreement and grant with the National Science
Foundation, the company has no authority to limit or control the growth of
the domain naming system.
Network Solutions has said in the past that it does not control the root
servers but that the IANA does. Donovan, however, said that Network
Solutions, not IANA, is the responsible party because it was granted the
exclusive contract for domain service from the government. "We've been
through every document we can find and nowhere is IANA named as a
government contractor," he said.
The complaint also said PGP Media reserved the right to challenge the 1995
change to the original National Science Foundation agreement that allowed
Network Solutions to start charging $100 fees for two-year name
registrations on grounds of price-fixing and restraint of trade, though the
current suit does not address the agreement.
The IANA was sued earlier this month by Image Online Design. The company
accused IANA of reneging on a deal to grant it a new ".web" registry.
Network Solutions officials were unavailable for comment.
A. Michael Froomkin | +1 (305) 284-4285; +1 (305) 284-6506 (fax)
Associate Professor of Law | "Cyberspace" is not a place.
U. Miami School of Law | firstname.lastname@example.org
P.O. Box 248087 | http://www.law.miami.edu/~froomkin
Coral Gables, FL 33124 USA | It's warm here.
© 1997 Peter Langston