WORLDBEAT: Change in Store for .hk Domain

HONG KONG (04/10/2000) - For companies that want to make a name on the Internet, deciding on a domain calls for great care to pick the right one. In Hong Kong, where every week new companies and old are unveiling Web strategies, they need to be especially careful picking a name: They'll probably only get one.

Hong Kong, which has its own top-level domain, .hk, has been very stingy with the big pool of .com.hk's, .org.hk's, and so on. However, that may change soon.

If it does, the Web-happy business community here is likely to breathe a big sigh of relief.

A task force formed by the government's Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau is preparing a consultation paper for release in the next few weeks, outlining proposed changes in domain-name rules and the responsibility for those rules.

For now, here's the problem: If you want a .hk domain name, you need to have a registered business. If you've already registered a domain for that business, and you want another one, you need to give a good reason. Those requests are rarely granted, acknowledged Ng Nam, director of the Joint University Computer Center (JUCC), which hands out .hk domains.

If you just want to put up a personal or family Web page, forget it. There are no personal domain names under .hk.

"The rules are set in order to avoid people trying to grab names," Ng said. The open policy for .com, .org, and other top-level domains assigned in the U.S. has led to legal disputes over cybersquatting and helped to cause a shortage of names under those domains, he said.

Others say the strict rules create a hardship for companies in the emerging Internet sector.

"One company may have different applications, or different planned products," said York Mok, deputy managing director of HKNet Co. Ltd., a Hong Kong Internet service provider with a Web-hosting service. "We have a number of customers who have complained about this."

One observer has a harsher opinion of the current rules.

"Those are anal-retentive and stupid," said Joe Sweeney, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Hong Kong. Local clients of Gartner Group are frustrated, he added. Moreover, the impact is being felt as the territory tries to become a center for Internet activity. "I think it's just constraining the growth," Sweeney said.

The JUCC is a consortium of computer centers at several local universities. The government's 15-member task force, representing a wide spectrum of the community, will consider whether a more representative body should assign domain names, as well as how to deal with speculation and how rules should be set in the future.

Ng said there has been pressure for change.

"In general, there seems to be a feeling that perhaps some way to allow more than one name for each company seems desirable," Ng said.

Meanwhile, competition is starting to appear. SARNic Ltd., a private company that owns the .hk.com domain, last month began selling names under that domain.

Next week it will open up its offerings to any individual or company, with no limit to the number of domains registered.

Also appearing on the scene are Chinese-character Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), administered in Hong Kong by HKNet and Singapore-based 3rd Generation Network Information Centre. (See "HK Firms Start Registering Chinese Domain Names," Jan. 17.) Though they require special client or server software, they offer another way for users to find companies through a browser.

If the JUCC doesn't bring its rules up to date, .hk will be ignored, Gartner's Sweeney said.

The shame of it is that it forces local companies to go in to the picked-over .com registry when they want more than one domain, Sweeney said.

"The whole purpose of this was that we wouldn't have the domain name crunch we have in the U.S.," Sweeney said.

Although the rules may be restrictive, there are two sides to the issue, Ng pointed out.

"If .hk had been operated in the same way as .com, and .hk is considered something valuable, then all the names in .hk would have been taken up, too," Ng said.

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