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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK challenges empire
The sale of Colombia's web suffix has sparked debate
Colombia's domain name: National treasure up for grabs?
An entire country's cyber identity is set to challenge the empire.

The University of the Andes in Bogota, which administers Colombia's country web suffix - .co - is inviting bids from firms to sell it around the world.

It really is kind of holding a gun to the head of registrants

Larry Erlich
With catchy new internet names ending in growing scarce, the plan may prove a winner.

For example, if your business is called johnbraggs you could have this easy-to-remember internet address:

The university says it hopes to raise funds for hard-up students and new technology, the Spanish daily El Mundo reported. But opposition has arisen in Colombia itself, the paper added.

Some argue that the suffix belongs to all Colombians, not to an elitist university in the capital, let alone global interests.

The move would be hard to justify on social grounds, argue official bodies and charities.

Sizeable fees

And those who have paid - some of them a great deal of money - for the distinctive .co ending are not prepared to lose it.

"I think it will be hard for the University of the Andes to sell the domain, because the companies which already have it will not allow that," technology journalist Victor Solano told El Mundo.

The consultancy firm Arthur Andersen has urged internet name-registry companies to put in bids by 25 July.

They will have to pay $20,000 just for applying. The successful bidder will then pay sizeable fees and royalties.

Experts calculate that the University of the Andes will finally make between $20m and $30m from the sale.

Tuvalu sale

Last year, the web's ruling body, Icann, began selecting new suffixes - or generic domain names - to add to the existing .com, .net and .org.

The names .biz and .info will be launched this year
The internet's ruling body selects new domain names
The first two to be launched will be .biz and .info later this year, followed shortly afterwards by .name.

But in the meantime, speculators have been snapping up other promising domains, and some countries have even put their own on the market.

The South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu sold its domain name .tv for $50m last year, El Mundo said. Since then it has registered 450,000 companies.

Stray surfers

The Colombian country internet suffix is also a known abbreviation for "company", and its very similarity to may draw stray surfers.

"This thing has the potential to be much larger than .biz", Larry Erlich, president of the Pennsylvania-based Inc, told Reuters news agency.

But such new suffixes will jeopardise firms' cherished virtual trademarks.

"It really means that everybody that has a name has to lock up a name," Erlich said.

"It really is kind of holding a gun to the head of registrants".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

13 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Net body stamps on critics
25 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Prepare to do .bizness
12 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Net gains for Tuvalu
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