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Network Solutions

Network Solutions, LLC is a technology company which was founded in 1979. The domain name registration business has become the most important division of the company. As of 2006, Network Solutions manages more than 7.6 million domain names. Their size, founding status, and longevity have made them one of the most important corporations affecting domain name price and policy.

History

Network Solutions started as a technology consulting company in 1979, with approximately 30 employees, and focused its efforts on applications development.

Network Solutions was acquired by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in 1995, and listed on NASDAQ in 1997.

John Dillon reports in MediaFilter.org, "Initially, the service was subsidized by the government. But, in May 1993, the National Science Foundation privatized the name registry (InterNIC - Internet Network Information Center) and paid NSI $5.9 million to administer it. In September 1995, NSI instituted the fee system. A few months earlier, it had been bought out by Science Applications International Corp (SAIC)."

In 2000, Network Solutions was acquired by VeriSign, Inc. for $21 billion.

In 2003, Network Solutions was acquired by Pivotal Equity Group. In 2008, Roy Dunbar was appointed CEO.

On February 6, 2007, Network Solutions announced that General Atlantic, a private equity firm, entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Network Solutions from Najafi Companies (formerly Pivotal Private Equity). Although terms of the deal were not released, the Wall Street Journal reported in a story on May 30, 2007 that the price tag was "around $800 million.

In 2003 nearly 90% of the company's revenue was from domain-name registrations, said Network Solutions Chief Executive Champ Mitchell. Since 2005, the company has added 69 services and products and today these new offerings are fueling Network Solutions' growth. Now only 45% of the company's revenue comes from domain-name registrations.

At the end of July, 2007, Network Solutions had 6,659,150 domains under management and was in the top five wholesale domain registrars following Go Daddy with 19,709,215 domains and eNom with 7,646,676 domains. Tucows, the largest publicly traded registrar, has 6,622,982 domains under management with its recent acquisition of ItsYourDomain.com. Melbourne IT, a publicly traded company located in Australia, trailed with 4,664,019 domains under management.

In addition to being a wholesale registrar, Network Solutions provides web services such as web hosting and website design.

Registry and registry business

Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) first operated the domain name registry under a sub-contract with the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in September 1991. NSI gave out names in .com, .org, .mil, .gov, .edu and .net for free, along with free IP address blocks. This work was performed at the Chantilly offices of GSI, the primary contractor, a corporation formed by Infonet to avoid foreign ownership of U.S. government contracts. The work had previously been performed by incumbent SRI International.

In 1992, NSI was the sole bidder on a grant from the National Science Foundation to further develop the domain name registration service for the Internet. In 1993, Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) was granted an exclusive contract by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be the sole Domain name registrar for .com, .net and .org Top Level Domain (TLD) names, a continuation of work NSI had already been doing. NSI also maintained the central database of assigned names called WHOIS. A contract was let to Boeing to operate the .mil registry, and was also performed by NSI under subcontract.

In 1995, the National Science Foundation gave Network Solutions authority to charge for domain name registrations. Network Solutions charged $100 for two years registration. The fee was imposed on all domains and 30% of this revenue went to the NSF to create an "Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. In 1997, a lawsuit was filed charging Network Solutions with antitrust violations with regards to domain names. The 30% of the registration fee that went to the NSF was ruled by a court to be an illegal tax. This led to a reduction in the domain name registration fee to $70.

In the 1990s, Network Solutions implemented a policy of censoring domain names. This came to light when Jeff Gold attempted to register the domain name shitakemushrooms.com but was unable to. Further aggravating the controversy was the fact that while Network Solutions' automated screens blocked the registration of shitakemushrooms.com, the domain name shit.com had been successfully registered. Network Solutions argued that it was within its First Amendment rights to block words it found offensive, even though it was operating pursuant to contract with a Federal agency NSF.

Network Solutions' $100 charge, which many parties believed was excessive, in addition to its monopoly position in the market, was one of the contributing pressures that resulted in the creation of the International Ad Hoc Committee and its failed attempt to take control of the domain name system, and to the US Department of Commerce, NTIA releasing the White Paper and ultimately contracting with ICANN to administer the DNS.

With the formation of ICANN, the domain name industry opened up to partial competition, with NSIF retaining its monopoly on .com, .net and .org but having to recognize a separation of registry and registrar. By the end of 1999 the fee for registration had been reduced to a wholesale rate of $6 per year to registered resellers.

Controversy over domain name front running

Network Solutions Inc offer a search engine which permits users to find out if a domain name is available for purchase. Unregistered domain names entered into this search engine are then speculatively reserved by Network Solutions. It should be noted this "reservation" can be removed by anyone immediately by contacting Network Solutions customer service hotline, or it will automatically unreserve within 4 days, allowing the domain to be freely registered anywhere. Also, visitors searching for domain names on their website allow the reservation when they click "OK" on the Reservation Confirmation dialog box. Clicking cancel will prevent the domain name from being reserved.

On January 8, 2008 Domain Name Wire published a story alleging that Network Solutions practices domain name front running. "If you try to register a domain at Network Solutions, but decide not to register it, you won’t be able to register it anywhere else," the article says. "Network Solutions registers the domain in its company name with the words 'This Domain is available at NetworkSolutions.com'." Circle ID reported on January 8, 2008 that Jonathon Nevett, Vice President of Policy at Network Solutions and one of the seven members of the ICANN community who was consulted by the ICANN committee looking at domain tasting abuse, had offered a response to the news story stating Network Solution's policy. The policy was "a security measure to protect our customers," said Nevett. "When a customer searches for an available domain name at our website, but decides not to purchase the name immediately after conducting the search," Nevett added, "after the search ends, we will put the domain name on reserve." Nevett said that if the domain was "not purchased within 4 days, it will be released back to the registry and will be generally available for registration."

Jay Westerdal, one of the seven members of the ICANN community who was consulted by the ICANN committee looking at domain tasting abuse, published an article on Domain Tools on January 8, 2008 stating that Network Solutions is exposing the domains to domain tasters. The domain tasters "will snipe those domain up milliseconds after Network Solutions deletes them," says Westerdal. "It is a deplorable action that Network Solution would announce potential domain names to the entire world," Westerdal added. On January 8, 2008, Tucows, the largest publicly traded domain name registrar, published an article on their company web site titled "Registrar Reputation and Trust" criticizing Network Solutions policy. "Potential Registrants are effectively forced to purchase the domain from Network Solutions for a period of four days at which point the domain is dropped," wrote Tucows employee James Koole. Koole says that Tucows has found a way to address the issue of domain tasting and have policies in place that uphold the rights of Registrants. "Tucows works to prevent domain name tasting by charging our Resellers a monetary fee on domain name registrations that are cancelled within the five-day Add Grace Period (AGP)," Koole said. "Tucows doesn’t use WHOIS query data or search data from our API to front-run domain names," Koole added.

On January 9, 2008, Cnet reported that Network Solutions will soon not register domains when people search for domains from the company's Whois search page, will offer only an "under construction" page for sites that it has reserved, and newly reserved pages won't be linked to the numerical Internet addresses that allow Web browsers to locate the pages. Network Solutions will continue to register domains when people search for domains from the company's home page.

There is evidence that there are parties subscribing to this information which are buying some of these domains within milliseconds of them being de-registered. This occurs for thousands upon thousands of domains, with a certain percentage then eventually being bought by the original party, providing a profit.

Fitna controversy

In March 2008, "Fitnathemovie.com", which was a website that Dutch politician Geert Wilders had reserved at Network Solutions, was taken offline. Wilders intended to host a film he had created, called Fitna. At that time, the only page on the site consisted of a picture of the Qur'an accompanied by the text "Geert Wilders presents Fitna" and "Coming soon". Network Solutions' notice stated that they were "investigating whether the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy". Wilders said the 15-minute film will show how verses from the Qur'an are being used today to incite modern Muslims to behave violently and anti-democratically based on those verses. One reason Network Solutions came under criticism, was for refusing to host Wilders' website, but providing registration services for the hizbollah.org domain (Hezbollah). In response to these criticisms, Network Solutions agreed that hizbollah.org violated their acceptable use policy, and ceased hosting that website, as well. In addition, "fitnathemovie.com" was not available to the public on the release date of Geert Wilders' controversial short film. After fitnathemovie.com was pre-censored, Wilders expressed disagreement with Network Solutions. Fitna the movie was available for a short time on the day of its release at liveleak.com. Due to threats of a serious nature, according to staff of Live Leak, the video was removed. By now, millions were aware of this film's existence and anticipated its intended release, partly due to heavy media coverage. Many were outraged by the initial actions by Network Solutions, over its decision, in dealing with one of its customers. Freedom of speech protestors, and many who protested the film itself, created videos commenting the situation, and some uploaded Wilders' film to social networking sites, such as YouTube, shortly after its release. Subsequently, one of the top search results for Network Solutions in YouTube search is now related to this event. Protestors for both sides created their own blogs and video statements, on the matter. Anti-censorship protestors took their campaigns to sites, such as YouTube, in order to alert others of the situation. On March 23 of 2008, Brian Krebs of the Washington Post published an article explaining more facts related to the event. During the article, Krebs said that Susan Wade, Network Solutions SpokesWoman, had explained publicly that Network Solutions had received several complaints, in regards to the website, but did not elaborate on the specific number of complaints or nature of them. The article can be accessed online, as well.

Controversy over subdomain hijacking

Recent reports indicate that in addition to the aforementioned front-running practices, Network Solutions has begun exploiting an obscure provision of its end-user license agreement that permits it to use and advertise on its users' unassigned subdomains, even despite the registration and private ownership of the top-level domain itself. The provision states:
'You also agree that any domain name directory, sub-directory, file name or path (e.g.) that does not resolve to an active web page on your Web site being hosted by Network Solutions, may be used by Network Solutions to place a "parking" page, "under construction" page, or other temporary page that may include promotions and advertisements for, and links to, Network Solutions' Web site...'
Ars Technica has documented how to opt-out of this scheme, but many private domain holders and privacy advocates cite the move as another step in Network Solutions' series of recent attempts to push the boundaries of profitability and responsibility in its domain practices.

See also

References

External links

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