There's a scene in the movie "The Paper" where Michael Keaton, playing an editor for a New York City tabloid, manages to stroll past a desk sergeant and into a police station without even identifying himself.
How did he do it? He walked briskly, offered a confident greeting and essentially got by with pretending he had the authority to be there.
It's the same trick that ICANN, the group that oversees the assignment of Web addresses, has been trying to pull for years. But the group has tread far more clumsily than Keaton ever did, and a new bid to create unsanctioned addresses could cause a stumble that prompts tough questions about ICANN's true authority.
The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers is a nonprofit corporation created in October 1998 at the urging of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Officials there said this new group should assume control of the Web's top-level domains, including .com, .net, .org and any new dot-somethings it saw fit to create.
Such matters had been handled previously by volunteers and companies on contract with the federal government, which nurtured the networks that evolved into the Internet. But dedicated Net users were clamoring for a better system, particularly since just one company had the government's permission to sell addresses on the Web's fast-growing real estate market.
ICANN has addressed that shortcoming by licensing scores of new domain name registrars around the world. It also has taken steps to open up new Web addresses by choosing seven new top-level domains that will make their way into use later this year.
But the group's choices including .biz, .info, .aero, .coop, .name, .pro and .museum were pretty lame. Lamer still was its decision to keep the $50,000 submission fees paid by 33 would-be registrars whose proposed domains weren't approved.
Enter New.net, an Idealab spin-off that recently started selling its own top-level domains. You can register addresses in any of 20 domains, including cool-sounding choices like .shop, .family, .sport, .video, .travel and .tech. Name speculators have already snatched up many catchy combinations, including book.shop, dance.club and the inevitable sex.xxx. But plenty more are still available, and they're selling for a reasonable $25 a year.
Since ICANN controls the Net's domain name servers, Web users can't actually visit any of these new addresses unless they've downloaded a special browser plug-in from New.net. But the company has convinced Earthlink, Excite@Home and other large Internet service providers to make the new domains available to their users automatically. If New.net cuts enough of these deals, it can route around ICANN's supposed control of the domain-name business and make a fortune in the process.
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