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Global domain registrars planned

An ad hoc group is working on a proposal to create seven new Internet domains and to approve "official" registrars worldwide.

An ad hoc group is working this week to hammer out the kinks and critiques of its proposal to create seven new Internet domains and to approve "official" name registrars around the world.

The interim Policy Oversight Committee (iPOC) will meet tomorrow and Friday in New York to plan the technical design and implementation of a new domain name registry system that is expected to go live in January. An iPOC member also met with the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, over the past two days to discuss how trademark disputes over domain names would be handled under the plan.

Many iPOC members belonged to the now-dissolved International Ad Hoc Committee. Created by the not-for-profit Internet Society, the ad hoc committee drafted a plan for the future of the domain name system, which was signed by more than 50 attendees at International Telecommunication Union meeting in Geneva this May. Since the singing of the Generic Top-Level Domain Memorandum of Understanding (gTLD-MoU), as it's called, the proposal has garnered new support while facing continuous fault-finding from those who question the voluntary group's power or from others who advocate alternate plans.

The gTLD-MoU plan aims to compete with the current domain name registration system hosted by InterNIC, which is administered by Network Solutions. Under contract with the National Science Foundation that expires next March, Network Solutions is registrar of the most popular top-level domain names: ".com," ".net," and ".org."

Already, eight international registrars have been approved since iPOC called for applications in July. Interested companies must apply before October 16 to Arthur Andersen and may have to pay up to $10,000 for membership.

The question of who will control and dole out domain names when Network Solutions' contract ends has fueled a heated debate worldwide. Even the Commerce Department has asked the public to comment on the issue. But gTLD-MoU has gained the most momentum and is being closely watched by many online companies, Internet service providers, and others in the online community.

During the WIPO meeting this week, some delegates argued that the gTLD-MoU did not provide adequate protection for trademarks when registering domain names. In the United States, legal battles have been waged over names such as "," which was registered by someone other than its rightful owner.

Under the gTLD-MoU, trademarks that are held collectively in at least 35 countries are protected. Once such trademarks are registered as a Net address, the owners can apply to have others blocked from using the names under all domains.

Some WIPO members want to relax the requirement so that more companies can file challenges. For example, if a company in Sweden registered the name "cnet.firm," CNET would only be able dispute the name if its trademark was recognized in 35 countries despite that fact that the name is a trademark in the United States.

"This is just a draft, so at this point there is no rule. I think it is the best way to go after the trademark issue," said David Maher, chairman of iPOC. He was not at the meeting in Geneva but said the debate would not hold up application of the gTLD-MoU framework.

"We've been aware that the whole plan will need refinements and this is just more of the same," he added.

The group is now looking forward to its technical planning meeting tomorrow. Once authorized, approved registrars would assign the new domains: ".firm," ".store," ".web," ".arts," ".rec," ".info," and ".nom." Contrary to claims by Network Solutions, the group says it will register names for ".com" and the other popular domains as well.

"We're trying to advance the technical design and implementation work," said Perry Metzger, an iPOC board member.

The group of engineers will develop technology that registrars will use to access a central database. Avoiding the InterNIC's recent technical snafus, such as accidentally eliminating Web sites, is also a goal. (See related story)

"The InterNIC folks have said their past few disasters are somewhat [attributed to] human error. But you can do most of that stuff automatically and have your machines double-check the entries," added Metzger. "Most of the differences between registrars will be in customer service."