Start-up makes domain waves

Critics of the glacial pace of domain name creation are worried that the approach taken last week by start-up New.net Inc. will only make the situation worse.

New.net is offering Web site registrations for US$25 per year under its domains, which include the likes of .inc, .shop and .travel. Officials at New.net said that companies and Internet users want a wider choice of domains and that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is taking too long to create new ones as part of its management of the official Domain Name System.

However, the start-up's move doesn't sit well with David Maher, vice president of public policy at the nonprofit Internet Society, who said he's concerned about the potential impact of working outside the bounds of ICANN.

"It sure as hell is going to create a lot of problems in the whole domain naming system," because no one will oversee the whole process, said Maher. The greatest fear, he said, is that New.net and others will independently create clashing domains, causing online "address collisions" that will leave Internet users gridlocked. "It creates a separate Internet within the Internet," he said.

An ICANN spokesman declined to comment.

But David Post, a law professor and co-founder of ICANNWatch.org, an online group that monitors ICANN and related activities, said New.net is doing what ICANN has been slow to do. The problem with ICANN, Post said, is that the group has always "arbitrarily" set top-level domains, determining what should and should not exist.

Technically, New.net isn't literally creating new top-level domains but rather will use networks of Domain Name System servers to invisibly direct Web users to the 20 new domains by routing them through the company's own New.net address or through Internet service providers that have signed on to include the company's domains.

"Yes, it will be confusing" having new domains added by an outside entity like New.net, Post said. "That's the nature of the beast. There's value in having an ICANN-like thing to coordinate it . . . but there's a terrible cost with that, too. They get to decide what we need."

Steve Chadima, chief marketing officer at New.net, said his company was created because of market demand for more domain names on the Internet. "I think ICANN has moved slowly," he said.

New.net isn't the first to create new domains outside of ICANN's existing structure. Some 500 top-level domains are used on the Internet by different groups, but they aren't known to most people or aren't accessible without domain name server configuration changes to their computers.

But New.net has struck deals with EarthLink Inc., Excite@Home and NetZero Inc., which will automatically be able to direct their customers to New.net's domains.

Leah Gallegos, who operates AtlanticRoot Network Inc., a manager for five top-level domains outside the ICANN network, supports the creation of additional domains but criticized New.net for acting in the same arbitrary way as ICANN, without the cooperation of others. In fact, she said, of the 20 domains announced by New.net, only .hola and .soc aren't already being used by other domain registries under companies like her own.

"It's a fine idea" to have more domains, Gallegos said. "But they need to to it with new [top-level domains] that don't exist" in other registries.

So what do prospective business domain name clients think about New.net's splash?

One transportation company executive, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his company's plans as it reviews its options, said he's in a catch-22. He doesn't want to buy domain names from New.net for fear of legitimizing non-ICANN Web domains, he said. But if his company doesn't buy those names, others could profit by buying them and then selling them back at exorbitant prices.

A spokeswoman for a sporting goods business said people who try to infringe on company trademarks are a constant problem and that New.net's business will add to her company's woes on the Internet. The problem, she said, is that since ICANN and other groups have no legal authority, there's nothing to control the problem. What's needed, she said, is for ICANN and others to look at all the legal ramifications of domains and trademarks and help create new laws protecting trademarks from infringement by outside forces.

"There really are no rules, and until there are, you're really not going to stop that," she said. "We'll certainly look at it. We're obviously concerned, but we haven't made a concrete strategy at this time."

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