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ISSUE 517: The high tech office- Sept 21 1999


ICANN means businesses can go online more easily

If you're considering putting your business on the Net (and if you're not, are you prepared to lose sales to those of your competitors who have? -- but that's an issue for a different column), then you've got to think of getting your own domain name or Internet address.

An Internet domain name is part trademark and part, as the real estate agents might put it, "location, location, location."

Up until now, getting a domain name, especially if you want one ending in those magic letters, .com, has often been a bit of a mess.

Since 1992, Virginia-based Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) was the only way to get an address in the COM domain. The U.S. gov-
ernment-established mono-
poly offered notoriously bad service. Individuals took ad-
vantage of the mess by snapping up potential do-
main names on spec, then offering to sell them to companies looking to set up shop online. NSI's response to domain name disputes was to put the disputed name on hold, often resulting in lost time and frivolous lawsuits.

About a year ago, the U.S. government recognized the nonprofit organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and gave them the task of opening up the domain name registration business.

As a result, about 50 domain name registrars, including Vancouver-based NetNation (, are scheduled to set up shop by the end of the year. The companies will be certified by ICANN, which will work behind the scenes matching up names with the numerical addresses. While still primarily U.S.-based, ICANN includes international representatives and has certified domain name registrars worldwide.

All this promises to make getting and keeping the name you want quicker and easier.

ICANN is proposing that cases involving disputed names be submitted to binding arbitration. Today, the practice of collecting names for resale to an offline trademark holder is considered bad faith.

"The major benefit of the dispute resolution policy is that people who register domain names -- businesses or individuals -- will have a much clearer idea of what their rights are," said Esther Dyson, ICANN's interim chair.

As well, arbitration will likely lead to quicker and cheaper resolution than NSI's existing policy.

Unfortunately, the promised system is running into difficulties. Even though ICANN is a creation of the U.S. government, it's being sniped at in Congress, in part for internationalizing domain name registration. It's been accused of being part of a conspiracy to set up a world government!

ICANN has been over-
ly secretive, holding key meetings behind closed doors, while running itself with a "temporary," non-elected board. Ralph Nader's Citizen Advisory Center accused ICANN of trying to hold itself "nonaccountable." And even though it was set up without any clear idea of how it was to be funded, the group has gotten flack for suggesting that it pay its bills by getting $1 for every domain name registered.

Meanwhile, NSI is still in power, with its operating licence extended by the U.S. government from its original 1998 expiry to late next year. The company claims to own the key domain name database, thereby restricting access by other potential name registrars. It has even suggested that when its government contract expires next September, it won't turn that database over to its successors.

While the rules for getting your company the Web address you want remain up in the air, a behind the scenes crisis has been quietly averted.

When you type in a Web address, say to contact Business in Vancouver's Web site, your Internet service pro-
vider looks that phrase up in a database and quickly translates it into the real Internet address: 204.244.112.
063. Such 12-digit numbers allow for 4 billion possible addresses, which -- believe it or not -- raised real possibilities of the Internet run-
ning out of addresses in the near future.

But after four years of testing, the Internet Assigned Numbers Auth-
has rolled out Internet Protocol version 6 (Ipv6). This allows for (as Carl Sagan would have said) "billions and billions of addresses" -- enough for a future in which even household appliances will all have their own Internet address. Actual implementation is expected to take six to 10 years as new generations of the hardware routers connecting up to the Internet get upgraded to support the new standard.

Computers work with numbers. People, however, prefer more easy-to-remember names. Recently, the online Wired News checked 25,500 common dictionary words and found that only 1,760 were still available as addresses in the COM domain. You can check whether your business's name is still available at *

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan