Name-change plan casts cloud over Net

Companies with a presence on the Internet's World Wide Web could face bills totalling tens of millions of dollars if a proposed new naming regime is introduced.

The US-based International Ad Hoc Committee has suggested that a number of new "top level domain names" should be introduced. Most commercial Internet names end with .com - for example, www.ford.com. This domain is supposed to be reserved for companies with international interests but has become the standard for all US companies, as well as for many non-US operations. As a result, there are 500,000 .com addresses, with no restriction on who can use them.

The IAHC's proposal to force domestic US companies to use .co.us instead of .com has been widely welcomed. This means American company names will be similar to British ones, which are mostly www.companyname.co.uk. However, it also proposes the creation of a series of new domain names, including the commercial ones, .firm and .store.

Willie Black, managing director of Nominet UK, which allocates British domain names, says this could cause chaos, because companies will have to register a second or even third name. "I really don't think it's to the benefit of businesses to be given more names that they have to defend," he said.

He cites the example of Harrods, which had to sue an individual to "retrieve" the name www.harrods.com from him. "Will it have to register www.harrods.store to stop someone doing the same thing again?" he said.

Dr Black believes many of the 500,000 .com names may have to re-register, at a cost of about $100 (pounds 63) a go. The main beneficiaries will be the "naming agencies" - equivalents of Nominet - in the US.

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