Someday very soon, the Internet as we know it will be thought of as a simple, happy, and orderly place. Or will it? In just a few months from now, for better and for worse, domain-name chaos will hit the Web.
Since the beginning of this year, the Internet world has patiently waited for the introduction of new domain-name suffixes. Originally due in the spring, their introduction has been repeatedly pushed back by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit organization put in place by a U.S. government task force in 1998 to administer the assigning of domain names. The delays have been caused by the long and drawn-out process of selecting which companies will actually maintain and assign addresses for each of the seven new domain extensions (.aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro). Finally, it seems new domain names are just around the corner -- but expect some confusion attached.
In October, the long-awaited business-only .biz extension is scheduled to make its debut. NeuLevel, the Sterling, Va.-based .biz registry, began accepting advance claims from trademark-owning companies this summer. Until September 25, any business can submit an advance application for a .biz address. When more than one company requests the same .biz address, NeuLevel will pick a winner at random. Additional names will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, and the company will maintain a dispute-resolution process to prevent cybersquatting.
The .info registry is being run by Afilias, made up of 18 ICANN-accredited domain-name registrars located in 10 different countries. Afilias hopes to introduce .info by the end of the summer. Like NeuLevel, Afilias is allowing trademark owners to apply for a .info domain name before it begins accepting applications from the general public in August. The other domain names should be arriving sometime in 2002, as ICANN continues to negotiate agreements with companies wishing to oversee and register the domains.
If all these developments are not enough, an independent company, New.net, has bypassed ICANN and established its own private domain-name registry. The company has struck deals with such ISPs as Excite@Home, EarthLink, and NetZero. New.net's domain-name extensions (including .shop, .mp3, .family, .tech, .free, and .xxx) will be available via member ISPs, or by accessing the New.net Web site. On the downside, New.net addresses may require users to download a special plug-in before they can be accessed.
In June, ICANN warned those working outside the ICANN process that their actions could result in "destabilizing consequences." So, will New.net domain names be the next wave, or will ICANN-authorized extensions be king? According to Jim Walsh, a trademark and Internet specialist with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arnold & Porter, the only certainty is that confusing times lie ahead.
"Things are going to be chaotic," Walsh says. "No applicant, even if they own a trademark, is guaranteed they will get a registration. We are advising our clients to broadly apply for names in the new extensions, especially the .biz extension." Walsh also suggests that companies trademark their business name, or at the very least, apply for one.
Like the rest of the business community, Walsh is taking a wait-and-see approach. "I have no idea how this is going to work out," he says.
The nation's leading Internet e-retailer is Amazon.com, right? Wrong. It's Uncle Sam. A study released in May shows that 164 government-agency Web sites generated approximately $3.6 billion in sales in 2000, about $800 million more than Amazon. The government's biggest retailer is the U.S. Treasury, which generated $3.3 billion in Internet sales of U.S. savings bonds, Treasury bills, and notes.
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