How to get an inside track to the Internet
names your business needs, the ICANN way
THERE'S GREAT DEMAND for new Web
addresses these days, whatever kind of business you may be in. For
example, converting a Windows NT domain to Windows 2000's new Active
Directory structure almost requires a working Internet address
system for network naming purposes.
This year, new suffixes -- in addition to the
existing.com, .net, and .org -- are supposed to ease the current
scarcity of good names. Windows users and others hope short, simple
names will once again be available.
Unfortunately, the new suffixes may not expand
the name space much. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
& Numbers (ICANN) has created an insiders' game in which it's
likely that a few players will cash in on a new form of Internet
I flew last month to ICANN's annual board meeting
in Marina del Rey, Calif., to observe its decision on new TLDs
(top-level domains). Four problems are now obvious:
Restricted domains. Instead of assuring as
many new suffixes as needed over the next few years, ICANN
authorized only seven. Four of these are restricted domains:.aero,
.coop, .museum, and.pro.
To register a name in one of these, you must
belong to an international association of air carriers,
cooperatives, or museums or be a lawyer, doctor, and so on. Another
suffix,.name, is for personal monikers only. That leaves just two
new TLDs, .biz and.info, to handle all the pent-up demand for new
Them what has, gets. To restrict the pool
even more, ICANN favors a policy in which owners of registered
trademarks will get a 90-day head start before anyone else can
register names in new, generic domains.
Last year, ICANN created a quasi-legal system in
which trademark owners can take away.com, .net, and .org names from
parties who may be using them legitimately. The 90-day head start
means the same companies who already own names ending in .com will
soak up the same names in the new suffixes.
Board self-interest. After criticism, four
ICANN directors with personal involvement in proposals promised to
recuse themselves. In fact, they merely stepped away from the table
during actual voting. And long before votes were tallied, these
directors had gained a valuable inside edge.
One of the "recused" directors used the dais to
criticize competing applications. He particularly disliked.union, a
proposal sponsored by a United Nations-related international
federation of unions. Their proposal failed on a 5-5 vote, whereas
his group's proposal was accepted.
Opening day madness. ICANN seems to have
set up a wild free-for-all. When the new general-purpose suffixes
are finally offered to the public, hackers with fast "bots" will
likely claim batches of new names at 12:01 a.m. on opening day. This
is a potential windfall for the wily at the expense of legitimate
We found out on Nov. 10 what happens when a fair
distribution of new names isn't required. On that day, Network
Solutions (a division of VeriSign) and other registrars started
selling .com names in Chinese, Japanese, and other languages.
Several registrars have told me they could not
connect to VeriSign's central server for over two hours. During this
time, the best names went to those with inside knowledge. Judith
Oppenheimer, the editor of an astute high-tech newsletter, states
flatly, "VeriSign had preregistration prior to Nov. 10." (Go to http://www.icbtollfree.com/
and click Register.) One registrar says 10 or so people got
thousands of valuable names right off the bat.
ICANN allowed this sale before standards groups
could ensure that the new characters won't crash Internet routers.
And the troubles are just beginning. With ICANN's legitimacy in
doubt, the government of China is claiming an exclusive right to
assign names that use the Chinese language. The development of rival
naming systems takes the Internet another step toward
To give everyone a fair shot at new TLDs, it
would be easy to establish a lottery on opening day. ICANN should at
least minimize hoarding. (About two-thirds of registered names have
no content a year later. See www.dotcom.com/news/article1.html.)
But because ICANN is treating new domains like lucrative monopolies,
you might as well cash in with ICANN insiders.
RegLand.com has preregistration deals set up with
several.biz, .info, and .pro registrars for preferential
RegLand's $20 fee for preregistration (plus more
fees if you actually get a desired name) seems at least as
reasonable as ICANN's dubious "anything goes" policy.
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Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows Me
Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to email@example.com. He
regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.