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Tonga to offer 100-year domain name registrations

With competition heating up in the Net name registration market, the kingdom of Tonga is pushing a new gimmick to popularize its ".to" domain--lifetime leases.

With competition heating up in the Net name registration market, the kingdom of Tonga is pushing a new gimmick to popularize its ".to" domain--lifetime leases.

In its ongoing effort to capitalize on the Net boom, the island nation and its U.S. business partner, Tonic Domains, tomorrow will begin allowing people to register Net names ending in ".to" for up to 100 years for $2,500--or $25 per year.

"If you want, you'll never have to register this name again, or get billed again," said Eric Lyons, Tonic Domains chief executive.

Of course, most Net name registrants won't be around long enough to take advantage of the 100-year registration, so they may not be willing to pay thousands of dollars up front. In addition, Tonga's other rates--$50 for a one-year registration or $200 for five years--are higher than the going price for names in the better-known ".com" family: $70 for two years.

"When Tonic launched back in June of 1997, [these] prices were set," said Tonic spokesman Bob Cullinan. "Price has never been an issue without customers."

The top-level ".com" domain family is the largest to date, with more than 5 million names registered by Network Solutions (NSI). In comparison, there are only about 30,000 names registered under ".to."

For six years, NSI has had an exclusive government contract to sell Net names ending in ".com," ".org," and ".net." But recently the government recognized a nonprofit known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to accredit companies to compete with NSI.

Today, for example, 12 more firms were approved to compete, bringing the list of future competitors up to 76. But to date, only five of them have tapped into NSI's shared registration database.

Tonga's 100-year registration promotion may not be the key to going head-to-head with NSI, but overall, the country code domain name market is growing. There are 243 country code top-level domain names, with almost 4 million name registrations.

And Tonga, like NSI, is trying to offer value-added services to garner and keep customers.

"We're offering a one-stop shop for getting email and Web-page forwarding," Tonic Domains' Lyons said.

But country-code operators face different challenges than commercial domain registries. For example, at ICANN's August meeting in Santiago, Chile, its Government Advisory Committee called on the nonprofit to adopt a policy that would make the management of country code top-level domain names "subject to the ultimate authority of the relevant public authority or government."

If ICANN adopts the governments' recommendations, the decision would impact Net users and businesses around the world, because the use of country code domains--which make up the fastest-growing group of Net names, according to NSI--could be unilaterally controlled by nations.

Tonic, for one, already operates ".to" under the direction of Tonga. The company is less focused on the politics of the domain name system than on its drive to find a way to make money.

"We'll try to appeal to a different class of people--individuals and small businesses," Lyons said. "We can't keep up with squash exports and tourism, but it's a great thing for Tonga."