Internet name debate heats up over ‘.name’ windfall

By : |May 30, 2001 0



Lucas Van Grinsven

LONDON: With no major initiatives on the table, the upcoming meeting of the
world’s controversial Internet naming authority is likely to focus on new
registries such as “.name” that are looking to upstage
“.com.” ICANN, which meets in Sweden’s Stockholm this weekend for its
quarterly conference, chose seven companies to operate parts of the master list
of domain names last November.

Each will have the right to sell names with new suffixes: ‘. name,’ ‘.biz,’
‘.info,’ ‘.museum,’ ‘.pro,’ ‘.coop’ and ‘.aero’ in order to
create more choice alongside the current trio of generic domains ending with ‘.com,’
‘.net’ and ‘.org.’ Global name registry, the tiny Internet upstart
behind the .name registry, is expected to reap millions of dollars from handing
out domain names to individuals, and which plans to use that cash to become the
electronic world’s main identity tool.

“Your name could become your cell phone number,” says Andrew Tsai,
chief executive of the 40-employee Global Name Registry. Not only will a
person’s name become his email address and Web page, but a single name and
password should also be enough to transfer money and pay for online purchases on
electronic devices from a PC to a handheld computer and a mobile phone.

.name a license to print money?
It may sound like a welcome initiative that will allow people to get rid of
bucket loads of passwords, but some argue that it is a lot of power for a small
outfit that is set to obtain an exclusive right to sell a person’s own name.

It also puts the spotlight on the controversial Internet organization, the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which gives
companies like Global Name the opportunity to squeeze an annual $5.25 from a
person named John Smith for letting him have “john.smith.name.”

“This is a decision of immense consequence. (Global Name) will be given
the right to this huge source of information that it can leverage for other
businesses,” says Jon Weinberg, professor of law at Wayne State University
in Detroit, Michigan, and member of ICANNwatch, a group that tracks ICANN.

Consider the marketing potential if one company owned all the world’s mailing
lists and phone directories. Global Name has a long way to go to realize that
dream, but it’s been given a good head-start with the rights to the ‘.name’
suffix. Rather than one firm receiving a license to sell one particular
collection of domain names, ICANNwatch would have preferred to see competition
among rivals to sign up subscribers for ‘.name’ and the other new domains.

“These are the bad consequences of a bad decision,” Weinberg said.
ICANN, which was put in place by a US Government task force in 1998, has already
signed definitive contracts with two companies and is expected to finalize two
more exclusive deals around the Stockholm meeting, one of which is Global Name.

Resellers to sell ‘.name’ addresses
How many names it expects to sell through dozens of affiliated registrars,
Global Name does not disclose, but it could easily run into many millions. In
fact, it expects such a run for unique personal names that it will organize up
to 10 cyber “land rushes,” starting this summer.

Each land rush will last two weeks during which individuals can request to
register their domain name, consisting of two parts (usually first and last
name) plus the suffix “.name.” If two or more individuals in the same
land rush claim the right to an identical domain name, Global Name will randomly
choose one.

The right to register a name will cost more than the $5.25 a year, the price
Global Name is asking, because the firm in turn will use some 80 re-sellers,
so-called registrars, who will add their own profit margin and may charge annual
subscription fees of some $30. However, some banks or telecom operators may
subsidize a person’s domain name in an attempt to buy customer loyalty.

Global Name realizes only too well that it would have the right to sell a
unique asset. “Your name is emotional. It is personal. That’s why there’s
so much excitement,” Tsai says. It is also an easy business model to
understand. It is very favorable from the perspective of our business partners,
he said.

The London-based Global Name Registry, the only of the seven new Registries
to be based outside the United States, is a spin-off of Norway-based free e-mail
service Nameplanet.com and is backed by venture capitalists Carlyle Europe
Venture Partners, Four Seasons Ventures AS and Northzone Ventures AS.

Despite the advantage of having potential access to a huge pool of personal
identities, Global Name is not alone in its aim to set the standard for digital
IDs. US-based software giant Microsoft Corp. claims it has collected some 160
million personal profiles through its Web-based e-mail service Hotmail. It
intends to use these profiles, dubbed Passports, to unlock a host of e-services.

Expect these and other technology companies such as AOL Time Warner, with its
own vast membership base, to start hunting for partners that will give them
access to services and technology to establish their place in this lucrative
market. “Digital IDs will become a big story in the next 12 months,”
Tsai predicts.

(C) Reuters Limited 2001.

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