Can free speech and the Internet co-exist?

Ralph Nader certainly hopes so. His technology group is proposing some new, speech-friendly domains -- including .isnotfair, .sucks and .complaints

You could call them domains that make a difference. The Consumer Project on Technology, Ralph Nader's pro-consumer organisation, announced on Wednesday that the group intends to propose seven new domains when ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) meets this month in Cairo.

The proposed domains -- .union, .customers, .isnotgreen, .isnotfair, .sucks, .complaints and .ecology -- would be reserved for free-speech purposes, similar to the manner that .edu remains the mainstay of universities and .gov is used exclusively by the US government.

"This is all about using the power of top-level domains to address social issues," said James Love, director of the CPT. "Perhaps there is a little levity in the names, but we are serious about what this could do for free speech and letting people air their concerns."

The organisation will make the proposal to ICANN during the group's conference in Cairo, which begins next Tuesday. According to Love, corporations and political groups can block dissenting opinions by buying up the .com, .net and .org domain names.

For example, Governor George W Bush's presidential campaign has bought up several negative domain names, including bushsucks.com.

"The proposal will bring into relief how these decisions can be made," Love said. "No one can get too excited about .web or .business, since those just go to whoever has the most money."

The CPT's proposal calls for a $10 (£6.20) registration fee, which will then be used to fund litigation in support of free-speech issues.

Another benefit of using top-level domain names is that it makes the domain more obvious, and people won't have to search out a forum for their issues. "Just like .gov and .edu are clear to people -- if I want to find the FCC, I go to fcc.gov. These will let people easily find Web sites that talk about certain issues," Love said.

Use of the seven domain names -- or however many the CPT can get approved -- will be limited to legitimate groups with issues to air. But how will they decide what is a "legitimate group", and who may be buying the domain to stop criticism?

That's one for the ICANN meeting.

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom and read what others have to say.