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New domain bypasses red tape

The battle over top-level domains is avoided by NetNames, which is offering Turkmenistan's ".tm" domain to commercial interests.

Tonga's done it. Niue's done it. And now, Turkmenistan is getting into the act.

They're all tiny countries willing to hawk their valuable top-level domains (TLDs) to customers on the Web.

Today, NetNames, a London-based company that is also involved in the international domain name battle, announced that it is launching ".tm," a new TLD.

Companies that would otherwise have to compete in the highly politicized arena of domain names to run a new generic top-level domain are teaming up with obscure countries that are automatically allotted top-level domain names for their countries but don't have much use for them.

Now they are selling them to capitalize on the overcrowded TLD system: ".com," the most crowded TLD, is so overcrowded that businesses and individuals are seeking new domains where they won't have to fight for their desired name.

"TM" actually stands for Turkmenistan, but like ".to" and ".nu," it also is attractive to those seeking a new name for their Web sites.

The Commerce Department is receiving comments on a draft report it released proposing a shift in the way the domain name system (DNS) is run.

The government is proposing to add five generic TLDs to the ones already in existence, such as ".com," ".net," and ".org." NetNames is involved in that fight because is a member of a group that is engaged in the battle over the generic TLDs.

But meanwhile, it can launch ".tm" without having to step through any bureaucratic hoops: While the generic TLD system is mired in politics, countries have always been allowed to run their own country codes. The idea was that countries needed sovereignty over their own domains.

While many countries have certain requirements of those who want to use their TLDs, others have allowed widespread commercial use of their domains.

Antony Van Couvering, president of NetNames USA, said his company reached an agreement with the government of Turkmenistan in Central Asia to run its TLD, which has been operational for years but had never been sold commercially. NetNames will operate it and take a cut of the profits. Van Couvering declined to disclose financial terms.

Those who go directly to NetNames to register the page pay $249 to do so. But users also can go directly to the ".tm" registration page and pay $50 per year for two years, Van Couvering said.

"We approached the government and said, 'We can run this for you,'" Van Couvering said. "A lot of [country TLDs] have been privately run for a very long time. What is new is marketing them in the United States."