HERNDON, Va. (AP) - The Justice Department is investigating whether the company that assigns the widely used "dot-com" Internet addresses has an illegal monopoly.
Network Solutions Inc. almost entirely controls the process of assigning some of the Internet's most common addresses in the United States - those that end in ".com," ".edu," ".net" and ".org."
Critics have complained that Network Solutions, which charges $100 to assign a "domain," as the addresses are known, has an unfair monopoly that has led to a high registration price and poor service.
Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that Network Solutions received a request June 27 for information relating to its Internet address registration business from the Justice Department's antitrust division.
The department also is seeking information from Science Applications International Corp., Network Solutions' parent company, the SEC filing said.
The government has rarely looked into the governing process of the Internet, the global computer network that has become a vital communications medium for businesses and individuals worldwide.
Registering a domain is necessary for any person or business that wants a unique address. The domains serve as a sort of ZIP code for the Internet, allowing users to send electronic mail and find pages on the World Wide Web.
Network Solutions chief executive Gabriel Battista declined to comment except to say the company plans to comply with the request.
He cited the SEC requirement that officials refrain from comment when their company's stock is being offered to the public for the first time. In the same document that disclosed the antitrust investigation, Network Solutions notified the SEC that it is planning a stock offering worth as much as $35 million.
The National Science Foundation in 1995 gave Network Solutions the power to assign domains on the Internet. The foundation previously had controlled registration when the network was largely the territory of academics and government scientists.
Under the deal, the company would place 30 percent of the registration fees - or $30 per domain - into a fund for the "preservation and enhancement" of the Internet.
None of that money has been spent, according to the document filed with the SEC, and the fund totaled $23.8 million at the end of March.
The NSF said in April that it would not renew Network Solutions' deal when it expires next year, but the company said it does not plan to give up its exclusive hold on the domains it registers.
In March, Network Solutions was sued by a New York company, PG Media Inc., which alleged that Network Solutions is violating antitrust laws by not adding new domain suffixes.