RealTime IT News

Land Rush Is Near for .INFO and .BIZ

After months of delay, the land rush for two new global top-level domains, .BIZ and .INFO, is expected to gain momentum next week.

Afilias LLC, the registry for the new, unrestricted .INFO domain, has completed contract negotiations with the staff of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on Thursday. NeuLevel LLC, which will handle .BIZ, a new TLD reserved for trademark holders, is expected to follow next week.

Two other new domains, .PRO and .NAME, are said to be several weeks behind in the negotiation process, but .NAME in particular could close the gap and go live soon due to being less encumbered by intellectual property issues.

The completion of these first registry agreements will kick off a potentially bewildering registration process, culminating in new .INFO domains coming online as soon as early July, with .BIZ following a few months after. But while the start-up rules were designed to minimize mayhem and ensure fairness, experts are bracing for a period of unprecedented frenzy.

"I think there's going to be a mad rush. There's been an artificial restriction for a long time, and I think people are going to register these things like crazy. There will have been no single week like it ever in the history of domain names," said Bret Fausett, a domain expert and intellectual property attorney with Hancock, Rothert and Bunshoft in Los Angeles.

Indeed, the new registries will likely handle more registrations in their first few months than Network Solutions took in its first few years. The .INFO registry, for example, anticipates logging 1.5 million registrations by October, according to John Kane, marketing task force leader for Afilias.

"There are a lot of individuals and companies who missed out the first time around and didn't get their dot com, so they're stuck with a long address that's not intuitive. For a lot of those people, there is significant anticipation of getting a very good top-level domain," said Kane.

RED SUNRISE AHEAD

Already, several domain registrars are hoping to tap into this latent domain demand by pitching pre-registration services that claim to boost registrants' chances of getting the domains of their choice. And for months, many registrars have been taking "pre-registrations" for the new TLDs, depite warnings from the Federal Trade Commission and ICANN.

But first, the completed registry agreements must be approved by the ICANN board following a seven-day comment period. Upon ICANN's blessing, the agreements are expected to be rubber-stamped by the US Department of Commerce, which oversees the Internet's root servers.

What follows then is a complex process that has been dubbed the "sunrise" period. Designed to give trademark and famous-name holders first dibs on domains and to thwart cybersquatters, these procedures vary for each of the new TLDs.

In the case of .INFO, a 30-day sunrise period will commence by the end of June, during which companies with trademarks registered before October 2, 2000 will be able to request domains that match their marks.

About two weeks after the close of the sunrise period, .INFO registrations will open to the general public. Afilias will use a round-robin system, pulling a queue of registrations from each ICANN-accredited registrar, and randomly selecting one registration from each queue in turn until all of the registrars' queues are empty.

For .BIZ, NeuLevel has established a three-phase start-up plan. During the first stage, which is expected to last up to 45 days, trademark holders can submit their name requests to an IP Claim Database for a $90 fee. Under its Start-up Intellectual Property Notification service (SIPN), NeuLevel will notify prospective registrants by email when another customer submits a conflicting claim.

The second phase, which is likely to occur in parallel, allows all companies to submit .BIZ domain name applications through accredited registrars during a period of up to approximately 80 days. Organized like a lottery, the application system enables customers to submit multiple applications for the same domain name, at two dollars apiece, to increase their odds.

GAMING THE SYSTEM

The ability of applicants to stack the .BIZ lottery has many prospective participants feeling unsettled, especially in instances where famous names or trademarks collide.

"What if there's a bidding war over, say, united.biz? United Airlines does 100, and then United Van Lines does 200. This seems to be something of an arms race, and the only obvious winner is the registry," said Martin Schwimmer, a New York attorney who provides domain and trademark services to clients including Fortune 100 corporations.

While the policies for .INFO are designed to give an equal chance to all registrants, some registrars are devising ways to help domain applicants boost their odds. Earlier this week, NameEngine Inc. launched its $495 DotProtect service, which simultaneously submits applications on behalf of .INFO registrants to all accredited registrars. For another $495, NameEngine will submit your desired .BIZ domain registration to the NeuLevel registry 100 times.

But NameEngine doesn't hide the fact that its submission service provides no assurance of success.

"If what you want is the best chance of getting the name, you can be pretty confident. If what you want is a guarantee, that's not something anybody can offer," said CEO Antony Van Couvering.

Another strategy employed by some registrars to increase registrant's chances -- as well as the registrar's revenues -- involves prohibiting multiple applications for the same domain name, and auctioning off certain domains to the highest bidder. Afternic, the after-market domain company owned by Register.com, was offering rights to the books.info domain for $1,675. Meanwhile, eNom, a member of the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), has auctioned the rights to submit ebiz.biz for $13,000, and the rights to computers.biz for $10,000.

In both instances, the fees are non-refundable, even though the registrars admit that they can not assure customers they will successfully register the name. Michael Palage, a consultant to Afilias, says the strategy has inherent risks to both the registrar and its customers.

"To me it's very dangerous. If you only go with a couple names in your queue and you don't get the ones you want, you'll have to wait until the next set of queues is processed, and by that point in time probably most of the names will be gone," said Palage. He also warned customers to avoid registrars that promise "priority placement" in the queues, since such an offer is meaningless given the randomized selection process used by Afilias.

EXPANDING THE NAME SPACE

For the budget-minded individual or small business, Fausett says the best way to boost their odds is by registering .INFO domains with smaller registrars who are likely to have smaller queues.

But Fausett predicts that ICANN's first attempt to expand the name space may leave many individuals and businesses frustrated.

"I think a lot of the good domain names are going to be gone in the land rush period, and it's going to be hard to get one. Are small businesses going to be willing to pay thousands of dollars to get a good .INFO name? I don't know," said Fausett.