ICANN board votes to add seven new Internet domains

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. -- The organization charged with managing the Internet domain name system yesterday approved the addition of seven new top-level domains (TLD), a major step aimed at challenging the current dominance of the .com domain, introducing more competition into the system and opening the Web to new kinds of uses.

The addition of the .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero and .coop domains approved here yesterday is dependent on the completion of final negotiations between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the companies and groups that are seeking to manage domain name registries for the new TLDs. ICANN officials said they expect to have registry deals in place by year's end.

It's unknown how successful the new domains will be at winning widespread acceptance. And the business benefit of the additional TLDs -- especially .biz, which is expected to be the chief alternative to .com for corporate Web sites -- remains unproven. But companies looking to protect their corporate trademarks may have to act defensively by quickly registering domain names under the new TLDs in order to beat would-be cybersquatters to the punch.

Legal challenges could abound as disputes arise between companies that have registered seemingly generic domain names under .com and others that move faster and register .biz versions of the same URLs, observers said.

And there likely will be more to come: ICANN's long-range plan is to introduce many more domains in the years ahead. This week's action was simply "a first giant step for domain-kind," said Esther Dyson, the outgoing chairman of ICANN's board of directors, after the panel approved the new TLDs near the end of a four-day series of meetings held by the organization.

More than 200 proposals for new domains were submitted by 44 applicants, but the ICANN board decided to limit the introduction of more TLDs in order to test their acceptance and impact on the Internet. The selection process created a lot of friction at this week's meetings, as ICANN was hit by a barrage of criticism and threats of lawsuits prior to yesterday's vote (see story).

Even ICANN's decision to only pick what it considered the strongest candidates out of all the proposals created potential problems for the organization's directors. Particularly controversial was a proposal to create a .web registry offering that was submitted by Afilias LLC, a consortium that includes 19 domain name registrars, among them VeriSign Inc.'s Network Solutions Inc. subsidiary in Herndon, Va.

Dyson said the formation of the consortium might not foster the kind of competition that ICANN is looking for in the domain name registration business. "The whole thing gives me a queasy feeling, is the short way to say it," she said.

But other ICANN board members argued in favor of the cooperative model espoused by Afilias, and it won approval in the final voting. However, Afilias didn't get the .web domain it wanted. Instead, the consortium was given .info, its second choice, after ICANN board member Vinton Cerf noted that Image Online Design Inc. (IOD) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., already operates an unofficial .web registry.

Like Afilias, IOD applied to operate an official registry for a .web domain, but its proposal wasn't approved in this round of voting. That prompted IOD to release a statement by John Frangie, its CEO, saying that the company was "disappointed" by the decision and "will continue to make an aggressive case to ICANN that we are more than qualified to be selected as a new TLD."

Paul Garrin, the CEO of New York-based Name.Space Inc., which unsuccessfully sought approval for a slew of domains such as .shop and .sucks, said at the ICANN meeting that Afilias "should not have been awarded anything in this process." The 19 companies that formed the consortium "already have market dominance" in the domain name registration business, he added.

The .biz domain will be operated by JVTeam LLC, a new venture formed by Washington-based NeuStar Inc. and Melbourne IT Ltd. in Australia.

The plan adopted by ICANN also creates what may become an emerging class of industry-specific domain registrations. The accepted proposals included one from the Washington-based National Cooperative Business Association, which won approval for a .coop domain that it hopes will help drive business to cooperatives.

The Belgium-based Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques SC (SITA), a cooperative association that includes members such as air transport companies, will run the new .aero registry. RegistryPro Ltd., an Irish company that's jointly owned by New York-based Register.com Inc. and Virtual Internet PLC in England, will operate the .pro registry aimed at doctors and lawyers.

Some applications, including a number of .kid proposals, were rejected because of concerns that their names implied some guarantees about the content of Web sites that would be registered under the domains.

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Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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