New competition for .com

After two days of hearings by the Internet's governing body, .com, .net, and other existing top-level domains have some new competition

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) approved seven new top-level domains (TLDs), the suffixes attached to a Web address. Winners included .museum, for museums, .name, an IBM proposal for personal Web addresses, .aero for the travel industry, and .coop for cooperatives.

Another winner was .info, proposed by Affilias, a partnership between 19 registrars.

It's possible Web users could begin registering new addresses by the beginning of next year, board members said. "We're about to take a momentous first step towards creating competition," Icann chairwoman Esther Dyson said. Dyson deflected criticism that the board was setting policy with its selection instead of expanding existing TLDs as it has the authority to do. "We weren't making policy, we were making choices," she said.

Affilias' .info winner was not a surprise, although the group's first choice was a TLD of .web. The company is a consortium of registrars lead by Network Solutions, which held a government-approved monopoly on registering .com address for years. "Maybe we lost the coolness of .web, sure," said Elliot Noss, chief executive of Tucows, which will help in the registration of .info addresses. "But this is a direct path. It's clear what it is."

The new .info TLD was meant to be a direct competitor to .com, Noss said.

The consortium of existing registrars made the Afflias proposal attractive to some Icann directors, but unacceptable to others. Director Vint Cerf said the existing infrastructure of some of the Affilias members was its strongest argument. Each of its 19 members owns a five percent stake in the company.

Dyson, on the other hand, said the cooperative structure "doesn't really foster competition. We want to create a competitive market, but the first thing we do is select a consortium. The whole thing gives me a queasy feeling."

The .pro TLD will be attached to the Web addresses of professional groups -- doctors, lawyers, and accountants, to begin with. Registrations from other professions will be accepted at a later date. The TLD string, will be run by RegistryPro, a partnership between Register.com, Baltimore Technologies, and Virtual Internet.

The .museum TLD was proposed by the Museum Domain Management Association and will be used for museum Web pages.

Icann had 44 possible TLDs on the table when hearings began Monday, all submitted by companies that paid a $50,000 submission fee. Within two days, the board had narrowed the field to nine finalists.

The controversial .geo proposal from SRI International was among them, but concerns about the TLD's ability to grow -- and whether it was the only way to geographically organize the Web -- got it knocked off the list.

One of the more unusual TLDs to be championed, but ultimately fail, was a proposal from Name.Space, which has been registering Web addresses in 540 top-level domains, all of which do not exist. There are about 18,000 Web addresses out there with those domains, said Name.Space chief executive Paul Garrin.

"There was clearly some prejudice against small business," said Garrin, adding that most of the companies backing the winning proposals occupy the upper echelon of tech companies. The board also deflected an attempt by Director Hans Kraaijenbrink to remove the .kids domain, which Icann staff rejected in its evaluations of the 44 applications. The TLD was meant to create a safe haven of Web addresses where children could surf the Internet.

A category of TLDs that specifically restricted content -- where .kids was grouped -- did receive what amounted to a pat on the back from the Icann board despite members' repeated assertions that it is not their business to protect children or others. Nevertheless, Icann's Cerf said, "This may make sense in the long-term."

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