TECH TALK TUESDAY – Is the National Science Foundation an April Fool?

nancy Techie Tues 9-2-97

On the first they will stop collection of the Intellectual Development Fee tacked on to domain names. Sure, the yearly cost of your domain will drop – but the NSF and education will lose over $45 million! Is this a good deal?

Domain Drop!

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) announced the end of the Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund portion of domain name fees. The changes occurred amid intense criticism and claims that the fee was an illegal tax. The NSF will no longer be allowed to cash in on domain names.

As a result, the annual fee for domain name registration, which has been $50 since fees were imposed in 1995, will decline to $35, reducing the cost of domain name registration by 30 percent. The change will be effective April 1, 1998.

The Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund was created to offset government funding for the preservation and enhancement of the intellectual infrastructure of the Internet. More than $45.5 million has been deposited into the fund to date. Those funds have been cut, leaving the intelluectual aspects of the web with an uncertain future against the corportate forces that now rule the internet.

On March 12, the cooperative agreement between NSF and NSI was amended to stop contribution to the fund consistent with recommendations in the Clinton Administration draft discussion paper, “DNS Management Proposed Rule and Request for Public Comment(Improvement of Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses)” — commonly referred to as the “green paper.” March 31 marks the end of the originally defined operational period in the agreement between NSF and NSI. Given the amount of the fund, NSF no longer believes it necessary to continue charging a percentage of the registration fee for the preservation and enhancement of the Internet’s intellectual infrastructure.

NSF has indicated that registration services for the Internet are now a self-sustaining activity and are beyond the mission of the agency which is to support science and engineering research and education. NSF does not intend to renew or recompete any agreement for registration services.

Domain name registration is the process by which an alpha character string (e.g., nsf.gov) — by which people navigate the Internet — becomes associated with the twelve-digit Internet Protocol (IP) number which computers on the network actually use to locate and communicate with each other. In 1993, the National Science Foundation awarded a five-year cooperative agreement to Network Solutions, Inc. for registration services.

Network Solutions is currently responsible for registration services for four top level domains: .edu for institutions of higher learning; .org for non-profit organizations; .net for network service providers; and .com for commercial organizations (the fastest growing realm). In 1997, the General Services Administration assumed responsibility for registration in the .gov domain, which is reserved for U.S. federal agencies.

Fees for domain name registration services began in September 1995, as the demand for Internet registration became largely (97 percent) commercial and grew by orders of magnitude, exceeding NSF’s ability to fund the registration. The NSF authorized NSI to begin charging a fee for domain name registration and set aside 30% for the Internet Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. No money from the fund has yet been spent.

The future administration of domain name registration, particularly regarding generic top level domains (such as .com) which are not linked to any country code (such as .us,) is the subject of the Clinton Administration draft discussion paper.