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New.Net Offers New TLDs But Raises Issues

Since its launch Monday, idealab's newest company, New.Net, has been stirring up waves by making an end-run around Internet governance board ICANN to offer 20 new top level domains (TLDs).

The company offers to register new domains in extensions ranging from .xxx to .kids, .shop and .mp3 for $25 per year.

The catch is that New.Net's new "TLDs" are not TLDs at all. Behind the scenes, New.Net adds the extension new.net to any domain registered through its service. A customer registering bicycles.shop, for instance, is really getting bicycles.shop.new.net. But New.Net offers a patch -- which can either be downloaded by Internet users or applied by partnered ISPs -- which invisibly adds the new.net extension to addresses when Internet users type them into their browsers.

In turn, that means sites registered through New.Net will not realistically be available to the entire population of the Internet. Only users whose ISPs have partnered with New.Net and applied the patch to their servers, or users that download New.Net's patch, will be able to reach those sites (though technically a user could reach a site by manually adding the new.net extension to the end of an address).

Vinton Cerf, chairman of ICANN and the networking engineer that created the TCP/IP protocol that made the Web possible, seemed to be unimpressed by New.Net's offering. He told Newsbytes.com Tuesday that the company's service was a cute trick and compared it to sleight of hand. However, he conceded that the company was tapping into an unfulfilled desire among Internet users for new domains.

Ben Petro, chief marketing officer of UltraDNS, the San Mateo, Calif.-based company that operates New.Net's directory servers, conceded that not everyone will be able to reach sites registered through New.Net.

"It allows customers on a closed network to use a new naming convention," Petro said. "If you want this to work for everyone on the planet, you have to go through that process to become an [ICANN] approved TLD."

But Petro argued that ISPs could use that gated community effect to attract customers by offering them access to parts of the Internet that other ISPs don't. New.Net has already partnered with EarthLink, Excite@Home and NetZero. He also said the model could be attractive to advertisers by creating markets similar to television networks.

"If you're an e-commerce company and the EarthLink customer fits your target market, you're going to advertise on EarthLink," he said. "All EarthLink customers can now access a new set of commerce portals. I think it moves a lot more towards a standard advertising market."

However, in the realm of business it is less clear why an online merchant, for instance, would choose to register an address available to far fewer Internet users than addresses in the .com, .net and .org domains.

And New.Net raises other questions as well. Before ICANN, even before NSI Inc. was granted a government monopoly over the .com, .net and .org root servers, there were alternate domain name systems (DNS) operating on the Internet with their own root servers and TLDs. In fact, some companies have been offering the same TLDs for years that New.Net is now offering, including .shop, .family, .chat, .video, .travel and .law. Trademark law does not allow TLDs to be trademarked, so New.Net is within its rights to offer those domains. However, the problem arises when two individuals or entities attempt to register the same address.

The two addresses would not be exactly identical -- for instance, one could be bicycle.shop and the other would be bicycle.shop.new.net -- but they would be reached by typing in the same address (bicycle.shop). If the user entering bicycle.shop had New.Net's patch, he would be taken to the bicycle.shop.new.net site, otherwise he would end up at the bicycle.shop site.

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