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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 16:30 GMT
Net body rewrites the address book

By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

The address book of the internet is being divided up.

Domain registrar Verisign, which looks after the .com, .org and .net domain names, is surrendering control of two of its most prized possessions in return for improved rights over the lucrative .com suffix.

The running of the .org and .net names are to be handed over to as yet unnamed organisations.

In the past, Verisign has been criticised because it controls so many of the most popular net domains.

Divide and sell

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which oversees the running of the net, has announced details of an agreement signed with Verisign.

Its control over these domains dates from the days when the internet was a largely US phenomenon. Now, Verisign has agreed to relinquish control over the .net and .org names.

In return for signing the agreement, Verisign gets the right to look after the .com domain for four years beyond the US government imposed limit of November 2003. The .com domain is by far the most popular suffix for websites.

Under the agreement, Verisign will hand over the .org suffix by the end of 2002, and put the rights to the .net domain up for bidding in late 2006.

Because .org domains are often adopted by non-profit organisations, Verisign has also pledged to put money into a fund to pay for the administration of the name to ease the burden on cash-strapped charities and associations using it.

Names and numbers

Icann is currently considering a plan to restrict the organisations using .org to non-profit groups only.

New names
.biz - businesses
.name - individuals
.museum - museums
.pro - professionals
.aero - aviation
.coop - co-operatives
.info - general information
Icann said the agreement was in line with its policy of appointing single registries and multiple registrars for domain names.

This means that one organisation is given the job of administering the central list of a particular suffix, such as .org, but many other companies can sell rights to use specific domains, such as

Although Verisign maintains the master list of .com domains and where they are, it registers less than 50% of them.

In November last year, Icann selected seven new domains for the internet which are due to be in use by the second half of the year.

Root servers

According to the Internet Software Consortium, which regularly counts the numbers of different domains, .com and .net are the most popular of all net suffixes. In the last survey, conducted in July 2000, the two domains accounted for almost two-thirds of all net names.

Under an agreement drawn up in 1999, Verisign had until 10 May to divest itself of half its domain registry business. Back then, the organisation looking after the domain names was called Network Solutions and it was acquired by Verisign for 21bn in March 2000. Verisign also looks after the root servers which contain the master address list of the internet.

The 1999 agreement was drawn up when the booming international popularity of the internet forced the US Government to bring in measures to change the way that the net was organised and overseen.

The changes also saw the creation of Icann, which replaced the US Department of Commerce as the main net co-ordinating body.

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See also:

17 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Doubts surround new domain names
26 Nov 98 | Sci/Tech
US approves new Internet authority
25 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Brit to head net body
07 Mar 00 | Business registrar sold for $21bn
16 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Go-ahead for new web names
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