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Germany

A New Internet Domain for Europe

In the future, European webmasters can register their sites with an .eu suffix. It’s the latest move by the EU to promote e-commerce and even e-identity in Europe, as well as to stand up to the .com behemoth.

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European Internet surfers will have their own dot home in the future.

Web site designers in Europe can be faced with a dilemma when it comes to registering the addresses of their online sites. Should the URL address end with a country code like .de for Germany or .fr for France? Or should webmasters go the .com route, the best known of the domain names, and perhaps reach a larger audience? Problem is, many .com names are already taken.

The European Commission hopes to solve that dilemma with the introduction of a .eu domain name. The Commission says .eu will complement the existing constellation of so-called Top Level Domains (.int, .org, .de, etc.), giving users who operate in several European countries a distinctly European identity and relieving them of the burden of registering multiple country code domains. Brussels also claims .eu would indirectly increase consumer confidence among European Internet users, since European law, data and consumer protection rules would apply to .eu sites.

.com congestion

The most popular domain suffix today by far is .com. Some 30 million Web sites carry this label at the end of the addresses and new sites wanting to join the .com club often find their names have already been taken by others, or reserved by dubious organizations who go about "cybersquatting," registering names and then selling them later, often at a substantial profit.

"Historically, most of the .com addresses are taken by American companies or organizations, simply because the Internet got its start in the US," Markus Eggensperger of united-domains AG, a German domain name registry, told DW-WORLD.

He cites the example of Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s leading news magazines. The weekly couldn’t register itself under spiegel.com when it set up its Web site. The name was already taken by an American mail order catalog.

"It happens all of the time, large European companies or organizations find their names taken up by smaller American groups," Eggensperger said. "Not that they’re doing anything wrong, but Europe should have some kind of response."

eEurope

The European Commission first began looking into the .eu question in February 2000, when it began consultations over whether a new dot suffix for Europe was needed, and what kind of policies should determine its use. The plan is part of the EU’s eEurope initiative, which looks at ways of increasing Internet usage and stimulating e-commerce in Europe.

Brussels took input from various advisory committees, asked for public comment, and asked for feedback from national governments as well as non-profit organizations before it starting working out its guidelines, which should be finalized in early 2003. The EU hopes to have the first .eu address online in April of that year. Markus Eggensperger says the end of 2003 is more likely. "I’ve seen how long the process has taken so far," he said.

While the EU has been the driving force behind the domain name creation, it has decided to take a hands-off approach when it comes to running it. The .eu domain will be managed and operated by a private sector, non-profit organization. Brussels is accepting applications from parties interested in acting as the registry until October 25 and will select an organization late this year.

The Commission and many of its advisors’ biggest concern has been with the problem of "cybersquatters," firms which register names en masse, holding them in effect until they can later be sold to the highest bidder.

While Brussels hasn’t come up with a hard and fast plan for countering this kind of "warehousing," it has decided to institute what it’s calling a "sunrise period" when registration begins. For several weeks, certain names will be off limits to the general public, such as geographical names (bayern.eu or france.eu) or trademarked products.

After the "sunrise period" sets, registration can begin by companies, organizations or private individuals resident in the EU, and most like by those in states scheduled to join the European body in the course of expansion.

No price has been set for registration, although officials are saying it will be "reasonable," probably under 100 euro ($97).

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