Start-up launches 20 new domain name extensions

The Associated Press
Tuesday March 06, 2001

SAN JOSE — A start-up called New.net began Monday to sell Web addresses based on 20 new Internet domain extensions, adding to the growing anarchy in cyberspace. 

The Pasadena-based company is the latest breakaway domain name seller to resist the status quo and dole out Web addresses under suffixes that function like the familiar ones of ”.com” or ”.net.” 

The new suffixes, which include ”.kids,” ”.sport,” ”.travel” and ”.xxx,” are not sanctioned by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization selected by the U.S. government in 1998 to oversee Internet addresses. 

Other alternative, unsanctioned Web domain registries already exist but none seem to be as ambitious as New.net, establishing 20 new suffixes and garnering plenty of media attention for its end run of the establishment. 

ICANN is an international group assigned to technically assign and coordinate domain categories, similar to maintaining a master address book for Web sites. Sanctioned domain categories, such as ”.com,” ”.org” and ”.gov,” are the building blocks over which many other domain names are constructed and are essential to popular use of the Internet. Without them, users would have to remember complicated strings of numbers to reach a Web site or send e-mail. 

ICANN, however, has been dogged by criticism that it is sluggish and caught up in political tangles. It also is clouded by allegations that its decisions are arbitrary and that its secrecy conflicts with its democratic mandate. 

After years of debate, ICANN recently approved seven new category names that will be activated later this year. 

Companies such as New.net say that’s still not enough. 

“The (ICANN) process has moved too slowly and we want to move quickly to provide domain names that people want now,” said Dave Hernand, chief executive of New.net. 

But how many people will want to pay New.net’s $25 fee for a domain name based on suffixes outside the ICANN structure remains unclear. 

Using an unsanctioned suffix requires changing some numbers in a computer’s network properties. It’s simple to do, but most people either don’t know how or don’t bother. 

As a result, millions of Internet surfers may never see the Web sites using the unsanctioned suffixes. 

New.net contends its alternative offering is different. It has partnered with Internet service providers, including Earthlink Inc., NetZero Inc. and ExciteHome Corp., to automatically route users to the new Web addresses. Like New.net, those three ISPs were boosted by investor Bill Gross of idealabs!, a Pasadena-based business incubator known for springing controversial ventures. 

New.net also says its technology involves user-friendly plug-ins to enable easy access to its domain name registry from any Web browser running on any kind of operating system. 

“It’s great,” Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor who is writing a book on Internet roots, said of New.net and similar rebel registries. “I like to see this kind of demonstration that we don’t have to rely on this incredibly political and centralized process that ICANN has set up to create new domain name services.” 

ICANN officials did not have any comment, spokesman Brett LaGrande said Monday. 

But in a recent interview with the Associated Press, Andrew McLaughlin, ICANN’s chief policy officer, said unsanctioned domain name services “are free to do what they want. People who pay money to those folks are surely aware that ‘alternative root’ offerings are not part of the authoritative DNS,” or domain name system. 

Supporters of alternative offerings claim the government didn’t have the authority to delegate the naming functions to ICANN to begin with. 

A House telecommunications subcommittee last month discussed the Internet domain name selection process, but took no action. 


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