.Com Gets Company; Controversy Flares

MARINA DEL REY, CALIFORNIA (11/20/2000) - The organization charged with managing the Web's domain name system last week took the historic step of approving seven new top-level domains, a move intended to challenge the dominance of .com, introduce competition and open the domain naming system to new kinds of uses.

But the process - like the ultimate domain selections themselves - was fraught with controversy. The four-day meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers here was at times the face-to-face equivalent of a rancorous series of exchanges on an Internet mailing list.

ICANN is starting the new domain process slowly, calling it a "proof-of-concept" phase and letting only those companies and organizations with strong technical and business plans offer domains and new competition.

The introduction of the new domains - .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .museum, .aero and .coop - will depend on the success of final negotiations with applicants. The new domains therefore may not be available until next summer.

ICANN's long-range plan is to introduce many more domains in the years ahead. Last week's action was "a first giant step for domain-kind," said Esther Dyson, ICANN's outgoing chairwoman.

It's unclear how successful the new domains will be - whether .biz will truly rival .com, or whether industry-specific domains such as .coop, which is meant for cooperatives, will win widespread acceptance. ICANN had received more than 200 proposals for new domains from some 44 applicants, and there was anger over the selection process that eliminated most of them.

"The right to due process should outweigh expediency," said Lou Kerner, a partner at the dotNom Consortium in Pasadena, Calif. The remark was greeted with sustained applause from many of the attendees in a packed hotel ballroom here. Kerner is also CEO of dotTV Corp., a Pasadena-based company that issues Web addresses using the .tv extension.

Kerner, along with the other applicants, was given three minutes to defend his top-level domain application before the board. He spent his allotted time attacking ICANN's process and warning of potential lawsuits from the losers.

Dyson was unsympathetic to Kerner's arguments. "We gave you a chance to speak, and you did not take very good advantage of it," she said. Kerner's plan didn't make the final cut.

Consortium Controversy

Particularly controversial was a proposal by Afilias LLC, an organization that includes 19 registrars, including Herndon, Va.-based Network Solutions Inc., the domain registration unit of VeriSign Inc., to run the registry for a .web domain.

Dyson said the formation of the Afilias consortium could potentially impede competition among domain names. "The whole thing gives me a queasy feeling, is the short way to say it," she said.

In the end, Afilias failed to get the .web domain it wanted. Board member Vinton Cerf, citing the fact that Image Online Design Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif., maintains an unofficial .web registry, successfully argued to give Afilias its second choice, .info. Image Online's application to officially operate a .web registry wasn't approved in this round either.

Paul Garrin, CEO of Name.Space Inc., a New York-based company that sought approval for a slew of domains, including .shop and .sucks, said Afilias "should not have been awarded anything in this process [because] they already have market dominance."

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