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'Open Season' Declared on LA's Internet Address

Cooler than ".com" and hotter than ".us", the re-released ".la" domain is creating a mad scramble for addresses, Baltimore-based BulkRegister said Monday.

The B2B registrar is one of several companies vying for Los Angeles residents and businesses to use them in purchasing their very own .la suffix. This is the first time that a top-level domain has been associated with a particular city.

Open registration for .la began June 9, and since May more than 10,000 .la names have already been pre-registered. But BulkRegister says time is running out. All names that were registered through the previous .la registry have been set to expire on July 18, 2003, regardless of their registration date. On July 11, names from the previous registry that have not been renewed will be placed into a Pending Delete Status pool for 45 days, requiring a fee for retrieval.

BulkRegister CEO Thomas Cunningham estimates the .la domain should ultimately garner as many as 1 million registrations.

"For any business, organization or individual that wants to be identified with Los Angeles, a .la address is the place to be," Cunningham said in a statement.

Other Internet registrars such as Afilias Limited and DreamHost already have contract deals with LA Names to help hawk the sites.

.La is the country-code domain (ccTLD) for the Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR), a small country just north of Thailand. Legal disputes involving the previous .la registry had frozen registrations and renewals, but the Lao PDR recently entered a long-term agreement with LA Names Corp., based in Guernsey, U.K., to operate .la. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) originally sanctioned the domain to Lao PDR.

As in all other cases of country codes and .net, .org and .pro domains, those companies with lots of cash and copyright patents have first dibs on protecting their .la properties. For example, well-known brand names such as www.yahoo.la and www.rolex.la already have protection from domain claim jumpers. The issue may take a different approach in a city full of stars, especially with many personal names like www.madonna.la and www.arnie.la potentially up for grabs.

"There is still a massive demand for good web-addresses, and Los Angeles is probably the most internet-savvy city on earth. For businesses operating in LA a .la address is much more relevant than a .com address because it tells a potential customer not just who you are but where you are, enabling them to find you, visit you, and buy from you. For individual citizens it's more a matter of pride to be part of this extraordinary community," LA Names president Gavin Aldred said.

Lao PDR is not the first country that sold off its Internet property to pay the bills. Back in 1998, the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu (pronounced too-VAH-loo) sold off its right to sell Internet names and electronic mail addresses ending in ".tv" to Pasadena, Calif.-based Idealab for $50 million in royalties.

The practice of selling out ccTLDs has not gone unnoticed. ICANN's most recent meeting in Montreal found the formation of the Country-Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) and greater support for the individual Internet user community (At-Large). Both groups sought better representation after complaints that ICANN was a clandestine organization that was poorly operated and too closely aligned with government interests.