As reported in ARN last week, a start-up domain name registry operating outside the control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) launched 20 new Internet domains as alternatives to .com, .net and other officially sanctioned ones this month.
In response, critics of the new registry have come out firing, suggesting New.net could do more harm than good by striking out at its own.
New.net is offering Web site registrations for $US25 per year under its domains, which include the likes of .inc, .shop and .travel. Officials at New.net said companies and Internet users want a wider choice of domains and ICANN is taking too long to create new ones as part of its management of the official Domain Name System (DNS).
But the startup's move didn't sit well with Internet watchers such as David Maher, vice president of public policy for the non-profit Internet Society. Maher said he's concerned about the potential impact of companies, such as New.net, that are working outside the bounds of ICANN.
"It sure as hell is going to create a lot of problems in the whole domain naming system," Maher said. With no single organisation overseeing the entire process, he said his biggest fear is that New.net and other upstart companies will independently create clashing domains, causing online "address collisions" that could leave Internet users grid-locked.
New.net isn't the first company to set up new domains outside the existing structure maintained by ICANN - some 500 domains have been made available by different registries. The increasing number of unofficial domains could effectively result in the development of "a separate Internet within the Internet", Maher said.
For corporate users, the addition of New.net's domains raises the thorny question of whether companies are obligated to register domain names with the startup in order to protect their trademarks.
As part of its announcement, New.net did say it plans to adopt the same dispute resolution policy that ICANN uses to protect trademarks and settle arguments over the ownership of domain names. That process is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a United Nations entity.
David Post, a law professor and co-founder of the ICANN watchdog group ICANNWatch.Org, said New.net is only doing what ICANN itself has been slow to do. The problem with ICANN, Post said, is that the organisation has "arbitrarily" decided what top-level domains (TLD) should be part of the DNS.
Having new domains added by an outside entity such as New.net will cause some confusion for companies and Internet users, Post acknowledged. "[But] that's the nature of the beast," he said. "There's value in having an ICANN-like thing to coordinate [the DNS], but there's a terrible cost with that too. [ICANN officials] get to decide what we need."
Steve Chadima, chief marketing officer at New.net, said his company stepped in to try to meet the demand for more Internet domain names. ICANN late last year approved the addition of seven new TLDs, but critics argue that far more are needed. "I think ICANN has moved slowly," Chadima said. "It's kind of inherent in how they operate. They are a consensus group with no legal authority."
Technically, New.net isn't creating new TLDs. Instead, networks of DNS servers will be used to invisibly direct Web surfers to the new domains by routing them through the company's own New.net address or through Internet service providers that have signed on to support the domains.
Most of the existing unofficial domains aren't widely known or are inaccessible unless users change the configurations of their Web browsers. But New.net is including a new twist: Several major Internet service providers (ISPs) - including Earthlink, Excite@Home and NetZero - have signed on to automatically direct their customers to the company's domains.
Internet users who aren't customers of those three ISPs can get access to the domains by downloading a browser plug-in from New.net's Web site. The plug-in automatically adds a ".new.net" suffix to the end of domain names entered into a browser, the company said.