January 02, 2001, 9:54 AM — THERE'S GREAT DEMAND for new Web addresses these days, whatever kind of business you may be in. For example, converting a Windows NT domain to Windows 2000's new Active Directory structure almost requires a working Internet address system for network naming purposes.
This year, new suffixes -- in addition to the existing .com, .net, and .org -- are supposed to ease the current scarcity of good names. Windows users and others hope short, simple names will once again be available.
Unfortunately, the new suffixes may not expand the name space much. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) has created an insiders' game in which it's likely that a few players will cash in on a new form of Internet mania.
I flew last month to ICANN's annual board meeting in Marina del Rey, Calif., to observe its decision on new TLDs (top-level domains). Four problems are now obvious:
Restricted domains. Instead of assuring as many new suffixes as needed over the next few years, ICANN authorized only seven. Four of these are restricted domains: .aero, .coop, .museum, and .pro.
To register a name in one of these, you must belong to an international association of air carriers, cooperatives, or museums or be a lawyer, doctor, and so on. Another suffix, .name, is for personal monikers only. That leaves just two new TLDs, .biz and .info, to handle all the pent-up demand for new Web businesses.
Them what has, gets. To restrict the pool even more, ICANN favors a policy in which owners of registered trademarks will get a 90-day head start before anyone else can register names in new, generic domains.
Last year, ICANN created a quasi-legal system in which trademark owners can take away .com, .net, and .org names from parties who may be using them legitimately. The 90-day head start means the same companies who already own names ending in .com will soak up the same names in the new suffixes.
Board self-interest. After criticism, four ICANN directors with personal involvement in proposals promised to recuse themselves. In fact, they merely stepped away from the table during the actual voting. And long before votes were tallied, these directors had gained a valuable inside edge.
One of the "recused" directors used the dais to criticize competing applications. He particularly disliked .union, a proposal sponsored by a United Nations-related international federation of unions. Their proposal failed on a 5-5 vote, whereas his group's proposal was accepted.