The Department of Commerce is taking proposals to open the U.S. little-used country code domain name — dot-us — to broad registration, along the lines of such global domain names as dot-com or dot-net.
But its plans have come under fire from groups that say a valuable public resource is being given away unnecessarily at a time when other new domains are about to open.
After several years of sporadic discussion about how to improve dot-us, the DOCs National Telecommunications and Information Administration last month quietly issued a request for quotations from companies and organizations interested in operating the dot-us domain name. The deadline for submitting responses to the RFQ is July 27.
The move is primarily aimed at increasing use of the dot-us domain, which currently has only about 8,000 subdomain registrations, mostly dominated by state and local governments. Part of the domains unpopularity is due to its complicated management structure and locality-based system for registering names. For example, the city of Los Angeles official Web site is found at www.ci.la.ca.us.
The DOC plan aims to increase use of the domain by opening it up to registration at the second level, such as www.ibm.us.
The department is under pressure to take some action because its contract with the current operator, VeriSign — which has been operating dot-us at a loss — will expire Nov. 10.
But the move comes as a group of seven new generic top-level domain names — such as dot-biz, dot-info and dot-museum — are expected to become available, starting this fall. They will be the first gTLDs added to the Internet since the introduction of the most popular group of names, dot-com, dot-net and dot-org.
Public interest groups and others argue that with the launch of these new generic names and an increasing number of country-code domain names being marketed globally, there will be no shortage of commercialized domain names. They say dot-us should not be given away without ensuring the U.S. public benefits in some way. And they would like to see more study of how dot-us could be used to further the public interest.
The winning contractor will be able to charge a "reasonable" fee for dot-us registrations. Some groups have suggested using such proceeds to help fund efforts to reduce the digital divide in the U.S.
Many of the big players in the market for registering gTLDs are expected to put in a bid to operate dot-us. One group that said it will not submit an application, however, is the U.S. Postal Service, which caused a firestorm a few years ago with a proposal to take over operation of dot-us and provide e-mail addresses to coincide with every postal address.
The Media Access Project and others have called on the NTIA to delay its plan until Nancy Victory, President George W. Bushs nominee to head the NTIA, has formally assumed her post. Some members of Congress have also expressed concern about the NTIA plan.
"What we really want is [a process] where all things are considered and hashed out, and a decision reached which incorporates a solid public interest core," said Harold Feld, associate director of the Media Access Project.
An NTIA spokesman would not comment on some of the specific criticisms of the agencys plan, but said, "We feel the process has been open and fair."