Seven new domains, including ".store" and ".arts," may be coming to an Internet site near you.
Today, the International Ad Hoc Committee, a group of international standards and professional organizations, proposed a plan to expand the current number of Internet domain names as well as the number of registrars who can issue the names.
The plan could help replenish the dwindling supply of domain names--the basic Internet address that allows users to locate a Web site or send email to each other--in the popular ".com" or commercial category. It may also create a new cottage industry for companies that want to issue domain names to companies and individuals.
But the plan is not without controversy among companies that have already begun issuing alternative domain names, which bear names like ".biz" and ".auto."
There are currently six generic top-level domain names (TLDs) available today, including ".com," ".org" for nonprofit organizations, and others. The domain names are issued for a $50 annual fee by the InterNIC, an organization run by Network Solutions. There are more than 180 other domain name registrants throughout the world, but those groups issue Internet addresses that have been less desirable since they contain a chewy series of country and state codes.
By establishing the seven new TLDs, which also include ".firm," ".web," ".rec," ".info," and ".nom," the IAHC hopes to give people a greater range of Internet addresses. Initially, IAHC officials agreed that the new names will create some confusion among users who are accustomed to the standard ".com" addresses.
"We will get over any confusion very quickly," said Donald M. Heath, chairman of the IAHC and CEO of the Internet Society. "It won't last long because there is more education about the Internet."
The new domain names will also create opportunities for other organizations besides the InterNIC to begin issuing the addresses. The IAHC plan has proposed a policy, called a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which will allow organizations to apply to become domain name registrants. The plan also proposes that trademark disputes over domain names be handled through a Web site run by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The IAHC plan will still leave the InterNIC in control of the valuable ".com" domains, at least until a contract between Network Solutions and National Science Foundation runs out in March 1998. But Network Solutions will almost certainly face competition in registering second-level domain names--the "Pepsi" in "pepsi.com," for example--where it had been a virtual monopoly before. According to Heath, the increased competition could drive the price of domain name registration down perhaps as low as $35 a year.
"We're in the process of digesting [the IAHC plan]," said Chris Clough, a spokesman for Network Solutions. "Frankly, it's going to take us quite a bit of time. Overall, the concern is to ensure the stability and integrity of the registration process. I think everybody shares that concern."
Network Solutions already has some degree of competition. Several groups have already begun registering about 100 alternative domain names through a competing organization called the AlterNIC, but the addresses have failed to catch on partly because they're not easily accessible to most users.
The IAHC domains may be more readily accepted because the plan is backed by Net groups such as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which assigns the Internet Protocol numbers that hide behind the easier-to-remember domain names for Internet sites. However, some of the groups that are registering alternative domain names now were critical of the new procedures that registers will have to follow under the IAHC plan.
"The devil is in the details in this MOU," said Karl Denninger, president of MCSNet, an Internet service provider in Chicago. "All of a sudden, you've got to be familiar with Swiss legal procedures. If I'm a U.S. company and I don't do business overseas, why should I submit to WIPO?"
Eugene Kashpureff, president of AlterNIC, said today that the IAHC plan will not help users that want a more unique Internet addresses. Under AlterNIC's system, a company such as CNET could register the top-level domain ".cnet."
"They couldn't have screwed up the job much worse. The original [IAHC] draft called for 150 TLDs. Obviously that is not covered by the IAHC draft. They have failed to address the need that was out there to begin with. They have pretty much guaranteed the future of AlterNIC."
The IAHC proposal is available on the organization's Web site.