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Getting down to .BIZness

Claiming InterNIC has an unfair monopoly over domain names, an ISP operator launches a competing service.

A pair of companies have started a feud with InterNIC, the official Internet-domain registration service, that could turn the family of Internet domain names that now includes .COM, .NET, and .EDU into an alphabet soup.

Disgusted with what they see as an unfair grip on an increasingly valuable franchise, Macro Computer Solutions, of Chicago and Alternic have home-brewed a series of top-level domain names (TLDs) and are selling them, as does the InterNIC. Indicated by the last three-letters of a Web or email address, only a handful of TLDs are officially recognized by InterNIC and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

Partially-funded by a government grant, InterNIC initially registered names for free. But with the explosion of the Internet, the domain registry process was contracted out to SAIC Network Solutions, which now charges an annual $50 fee per domain with a minimum commitment of two years. Additionally, InterNIC recently became aggressive about shutting down sites that don't pay, including temporarily shutting down the recently launched MSNBC site.

Enter Karl Denninger. The president of Macro Computer Solutions runs MCSNet, a company that provides Internet access to more than 10,000 subscribers. Fed up with the InterNIC bureaucracy, he's creating the .BIZ top-level domain (TLD) to compete with the well-known .COM and other TLDs recognized by InterNIC. Denninger further thumbs his nose at the InterNIC's authority by refusing to pay the registration fee for his mcs.com and mcs.net domains, claiming that he registered them well before the $50 fee was instituted.

The .BIZ registration will have nothing to do with the InterNIC or Network Solutions and, according to Denninger, will present far less administrative hassle, one of Denninger's many complaints against the current official process. Alternic, the company hosting the public server that will list the .BIZ domain, is offering numerous alternate top-level domains, such as .LTD, .SEX, and .MED.

What's the catch? Denninger can't guarantee the accessibility of .BIZ domains. That will depend on the willingness of local ISPs to point their servers to the upstart designation.

For his part, Bill Woodcock, owner of Berkeley, Calif.-based ISP Zocalo, isn't playing along. "If you point at those (.BIZ) servers, then you can't see the (InterNIC) servers. The problem is that everyone else is pointed at the real (InterNIC) servers. Therefore, his scheme will fail," Woodcock said .

For users whose ISPs won't recognize .BIZ, Denninger encourages them to bypass their ISP by entering 192.160.127.86 directly into the IP address dialup configuration box.

The access issue is important for the success of .BIZ or any alternate domain not yet sanctioned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which assigns the IP number addresses that hide behind the easier-to-remember URL for each Web site.

Woodcock isn't amused by the new domain schemes and describes them as vigilante solutions to the problems of overcrowding in the .COM domain.

Expanding the number of TLDs available is only one possible solution to the congestion experienced by the .COM domain. However, the idea of adding more TLDs was dismissed fairly early in the InterNIC committee process as untenable. "If you have 500 TLDs, then I can see that companies like IBM are going to go out and register IBM in every one of them. So instead of just IBM.com, you'll have IBM.biz, IBM.net, IBM.whatever," said Woodcock. Instead, the committee was leaning towards a technical solution that would be invisible to the average Web surfer. Now the debate has again turned to expanding the number of officially recognized TLDs.

But Denninger insists that .COM congestion has nothing to do with .BIZ. "The real issue is that a monopoly has been granted to an organization that we don't think should have gotten it," Denninger said. "Under the laws of the U.S., it's not necessarily legal."

Woodcock points out that Network Solutions handles the registration for only three of the eleven officially recognized U.S. domains, .COM, .EDU, and .NET. "Anyone who wants to use the .US domain can register for free," said Woodcock.

What if someone decides to register CNET.BIZ? Denninger said his customers are on their own when it comes to trademark wrangles. "We are providing a compilation of data that registrants publish. If somebody has a problem with the data someone publishes, sue the publisher," said Denninger. "I'm not a judge and I'm not a jury and I'm not going to act like one. My duty is to the person who wrote me a check until a court tells me otherwise."

Registrants will pay $50 a year for .BIZ domains but will be able to sign up for $30 until September.

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