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Thursday, February 26, 1998 Published at 10:45 GMT


Vying for a name in cyberspace

Heralding an age of commercialism? Discussion on the Today Programme (3' 50")
The US government is planning to privatise the way Internet addresses are allocated.

As more and more companies are registering for Internet addresses, many are finding that their names have already been taken. And there is little they can do to get them back.

But as European Telecom Ministers meet on Thursday to discuss the proposals, many people are expressing doubts that they will solve anything.

At present, there are few rules governing this nebulous cyberspace territory. The US government has given a monopoly contract to Network Solutions to register Internet addresses, and it does so on a 'first come, first served' basis.

This has opened the doors for entrepreneurs known as 'cyber-squatters', who can make vast amounts of money by registering brand names as Internet addresses, and then charging the holders of those names to get them back.

Protecting trademarks has therefore become a hot legal issue in the Internet world.

Last year, the High Court in London ruled against a British company that had registered names such as and without the consent of the owner of the trademark.

But there is still no regulatory body governing the Internet, and experts fear it would be impossible to enforce any laws.

Privatising the net

The American plan would give contracts to several companies to register Internet addresses, destroying the monopoly status currently enjoyed by Network Solutions.

At the same time, five new international domain names (the last letters of Internet addresses, such as and .com) would be introduced.

This would allow more companies with the same name to share an address, but with different domain names. So not only might there be an http://www., an and an, but five more potential bbc addresses.

And only one ( would be the address of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Critics say that this would only confuse things further.

Supporters of the proposals say that having competing domain name companies would reduce the number of disputes, and also bring down the price of registering an Internet address.

If all goes according to plan, the proposals could be implemented as early as next month.

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