While it's no .com, the domain name is gaining attention as at least three challengers try to unseat VeriSign's decade-old management of .net.
While the .com domain might get most of the attention, its smaller but still popular cousin .net is starting to gain renewed scrutiny.
For the first time since the inception of .net, companies are vying for the right to be the registry that runs and manages the worlds third most-popular domain. VeriSign Inc., which manages .com, also has held a lock on management of .netuntil now.
Just this week, the Domain Name Systems main overseer, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), opened the application process for registries wanting to run .net.
ICANNs board of directors on Sunday approved a final request for proposal that outlines the selection process during its meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.
Already, three registries are promising to challenge VeriSign for the domain. They include a German nonprofit, DENIC eG, which manages the worlds most-popular country code, Germanys .de.
The others are Afilias Ltd. and NeuStar Inc., two registries that run the generic domain names .info and .biz, respectively.
VeriSign also plans to apply to keep .net, a spokesman said. And the Mountain View, Calif.-based company appears ready for its challengers.
"The .net decision is the biggest decision ICANN has had to make so far because of its impact on the economy," said VeriSign spokesman Tom Galvin.
VeriSign is promoting its track record of managing .net with 100 percent uptime and detailing the domains importance as the often-invisible underpinnings for e-commerce, government sites and e-mail services.
The .net domain disproportionately is used as a transportation and communication layer on the Internet, often serving as the domain for the name servers of major companies, Galvin said. For example, about 30 percent of e-commerce traffic relies on .net, he said.
The .net domain accounts for 8 percent of all domain names, behind .com and .de, with about 5 million registered names, according to VeriSign. VeriSign gained control of .net in 2000 when it acquired Network Solutions Inc. Network Solutions had run the domain since 1992.
But VeriSigns registry competitors note that they have just as solid performance records of managing vital domain names. In some cases, the companies say they can run more advanced registry services and work more cooperatively with the registrars who sell domain names than VeriSign can.
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Perhaps the most novel of the likely .net applicants is DENIC, of Frankfurt, Germany. It was formed in 1994 by ISPs, who also register domain names, and is run as a cooperative. It manages about 8 million registered names in .de.
DENIC director Sabine Dolderer said the cooperative has proven itself to be technically capable of running a large domain but also would bring a different philosophical approach to running .net because it is not a for-profit business.
"The advantage [of a cooperative] is we can reinvest funds in the network and to bring Internet standards forward and not to bring new services forward that members dont want," Dolderer said.
Dolderer noted, for example, that DENIC would not be interested in starting registry services that could compete with registrars because its membership includes registrars.
VeriSign has raised the ire of some ICANN registrars who view services such as its proposed wait-listing service for back-ordering domain names as competing with similar services they offer.
Next Page: Afilias touts its transitioning experience.
As an online reporter for eWEEK.com, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for eWEEK.com. Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.