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Judge puts brakes on .biz addresses

In the latest setback in efforts to expand the Web address system, a state court in California temporarily blocks the activation of some new domain names ending in .biz.

In the latest setback for efforts to expand the Internet address system, a state court in California has temporarily blocked the activation of some new domain names ending in .biz.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Thursday issued a preliminary injunction against domain registry NeuLevel, pending a lawsuit charging that some .biz domain names were assigned through an illegal lottery.

NeuLevel said the injunction covers less than 20 percent of the domain names registered to date and that it expects to send all uncontested addresses live Oct. 23 as scheduled.

"While we are disappointed with the court's decision and the impact it will have on some .biz applicants, we strongly believe that the process we've set forth...is the most fair and equitable way to distribute domain names," Douglas Armentrout, CEO of NeuLevel, said in a statement. "We fully intend to pursue this matter in the courts and will work to resolve these issues as quickly as possible."

The case highlights the rancor that has marred efforts to expand the choice of so-called top-level domains available to the general public beyond .com, .org and .net.

In November, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that oversees the Web's address system, added seven new domains to the pool: .biz, .info, .aero, .name, .coop, .pro and .museum. ICANN also accredited a handful companies to administer them, including NeuLevel, which won a contract for .biz.

The process has drawn some barbs.

ICANN "looks somewhat of an unregulated monopoly or the authority of government without the accountability," said Robert Connor, an associate professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, who published a critical study of the .info domain in August. "It doesn't look to me like a free market kind of system...They don't seem responsive to customers."

In addition, some registries have run into speed bumps that slowed the launch of new domain names. Internet addresses under the .info domain appeared later than planned as a result of last month's terrorist attacks. Afilias, the registry operating that domain, encountered further delays after continued efforts to bring its system up to speed.

NeuLevel, ICANN and several other registries were hit with a class-action lawsuit in August charging them with running an illegal lottery system with applications for .biz domain names.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said that a processing fee skewed the playing field for would-be registrants.

Applicants "wanted a fair and legal chance at registering a .biz domain name," and they weren't given that chance, said Derek Newman, an attorney at Newman & Newman who is representing the plaintiffs in the case.

In response to Thursday's injunction, ICANN noted that the order did not find the contract that ICANN entered into with NeuLevel was unlawful. It said the judge only determined that NeuLevel's decision to charge a $2 fee for processing certain ".biz" applications might be in violation of California's lottery law.

ICANN added that the court may have stepped beyond its jurisdiction in limiting Web address activations that were processed outside the state of California.

"The ruling, if upheld on appeal, would be harmful to the evolution of the global Internet," ICANN said in a statement.