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Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Net name chaos grows
close up of xxx
Net companies are squabbling over the .xxx domain name
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

The grip of the net's ruling body on the web's system for naming and finding domains is in danger of being undermined.

The sluggish pace of net name changes is forcing increasing numbers of companies to set up their own alternative, and conflicting, domain naming systems.

Already three companies are offering domain names ending .xxx, and many others are offering and operating domains for sites that sit on the internet but do not use the core computerised address books.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) risks losing control over who gets what domain because it has said it will not approve new net suffixes if the domain is already being used.

Net runners

Icann has the job of overseeing the running of the net. One of its main jobs is to ensure that the domain name servers, which hold master lists of which website is where, are run correctly, and that the system of selling domain names is run fairly.

It also has the job of expanding the number of domains that can be used on the web. In November last year Icann picked seven new generic domain name suffixes that will soon sit alongside the familiar .com and .net names.

But even before the new names go on sale, many other companies have set up alternative systems for setting up, selling and finding domain names. The alternative domains can be seen by making a small change to the settings of a web browser or downloading a software update called a plug-in.

One of the new domain names that Icann picked was .biz. It awarded the right to run the registry for this domain to Vermont-based Neulevel, despite the fact that the Atlantic Root Network has been running .biz since 1995. The Atlantic Root Network has appealed to Congress for help to protect its claim to the domain name.

Dispute resolution

Icann claimed that it did not know that .biz was already being run by another company but has said that now it is unlikely to rescind its decision. Icann decided against using the .web name because it was already being run by Image Online Design. Future domains are likely to be those that there is no dispute over.

The Atlantic Root Network is part of an alliance of alternative domain name registrars called the Open Root Server Confederation that runs its own set of computerised address books for the domains it runs such as free.tibet. ORSC runs the Youcann website which lists alternative domains such as .god and .here.

There are also several other companies running their own independent set of domain name servers. A company called Name-space lets people register any one of up to 500 domain names including .mayor and .anarchy.

But a row is brewing among some of these independent registrars over who has rights to the .xxx suffix. Domain Name Systems has worked closely with porn sites to set up and operate a system that only lets people with credit cards look at websites using the .xxx and .sex domains.

A rival called ICM Registry took a proposal to Icann to set up an official .xxx domain when the net ruling body was seeking suggestions for new names. In the event Icann did not pick the .xxx name because of the difficulty of deciding just what sort of sites it should cover and because of the dispute over who should run it. ICM is still lobbying Icann for the right to run the .xxx name.

Now a company called New.net has launched a third .xxx domain system as part of a bigger plan to set up its own domain system. New.net has signed a deal with five software companies to promote its alternative domains, which include .kids and .mp3, and to have some browser software automatically work with them.

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See also:

25 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Brit to head net body
28 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Name row threatens the net
19 Sep 00 | Sci/Tech
Money for nothing
02 Apr 01 | Business
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23 Mar 00 | Middle East
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