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U.S. Web sites shun '.us’ in favor of global suffixes

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NEW YORK — Internet addresses tagged with a country code — such as "name.fr" for France — may be a source of national pride around the world, but ".us" is America's forgotten stepchild.

And that worries the U.S. government, which last week began seeking suggestions on making ".us" more desirable to help relieve the crowded field of dot-com addresses.

Good luck.

Changing habits won't be easy in a country used to ending addresses with ".com," ".net" and ".org," which are supposed to be global identifiers but are dominated by U.S. sites.

Roger Cochetti, a senior vice president at Network Solutions Inc., said the popularity of the global suffixes reflect Americans' vision of the Net as an international medium.

"They are equally comfortable examining museums in France or Greece as they are online museums in the United States," he said. "They are equally comfortable doing research on a British Web site or a Canadian Web site."

Some groups and businesses even prefer other countries' abbreviations — such as ".tv" for Tuvalu and ".md" for Moldova. The use of ".us" is largely limited to local government agencies, schools and community groups, even though it is open to any U.S. site.

Even the U.S. Postal Service doesn't want it anymore. Though the post office once considered claiming ".us" for customers, postal spokeswoman Sue Brennan said the agency will now concentrate on assigning e-mail addresses through "usps.com." It became a dot-com this year, dropping allegiances to ".gov" for government.

The ".us" suffix is one of 244 assigned to countries and territories worldwide. It is such a source of identity that Palestinians recently obtained ".ps" and the European Union wants ".eu" to unify European businesses.

The Commerce Department believes the ".us" real estate is underpopulated because of the way such addresses are assigned.

A Los Angeles business that sells clothing is thus supposed to register under "clothingstore.los-angeles.ca.us" rather than simply "clothingstore.us."

It's difficult to remember such a long name. It's also difficult to figure out who assigns it, since such assignments are delegated to some 800 individuals and organizations.

So Americans have gravitated instead to ".com," ".net" and ".org," which are registered through Network Solutions and other companies heavily promoting the ease of doing so.

Under the Commerce Department proposal, a new administrator would replace the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute — where Internet domain pioneer Jon Postel worked until his 1998 death — as master keeper of the ".us" domains.

Experts believe such a designated organization or company would be able to market ".us" to commercial entities more effectively.

The proposal comes as simple dot-com names become harder to obtain.

It is separate from a plan to add a half-dozen or so new global suffixes, such as ".movie" and ".shop," by early next year to relieve some of the dot-com overcrowding.

Michael Sondow, who runs an online forum for individuals, nonprofit groups and smaller businesses, fears that ".us" will "turn into another commodity to be exploited by craven registrars and their greedy clients."

"Everyone had hoped that the .us would be reorganized as sort of a refuge for the person, noncommercial, nonprofit sector," he said.

Web site: Department of Commerce domain names info: www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/domainhome.htm

Network Solutions: networksolutions.com

".us" registry: www.nic.us

Sondow's site: www.iciiu.org