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.NYC: The Rush Is On for Web Addresses That End With Panache


Perhaps you didn’t know it, but New York City is in the last leg of an officially decreed 60-day land rush to claim a web address that ends in .nyc.


Until Oct. 7, people and businesses with a “physical” address in the city can pay a premium price to sign up ahead of the general public for .nyc addresses at www.ownit.nyc.

This is wonderful because the city, its businesses and people will have their own digital scaffold.


And this is harrowing, because, let’s face it, price-gouging by cybersquatters — who practice a form of virtual real estate speculation — is a real possibility.

Land rushes have a long history in New York City, in the physical world of vacant property in the undeveloped city.


For two or three decades around the turn of the 20th century, real estate speculators bought land ahead of the construction of subway and elevated train lines. Inside information about where the trains would ultimately run — when the routes existed only as lines on semisecret maps — was every bit as good as owning gold.


A near riot broke out in March 1895 at a transportation board meeting when real estate speculators discovered that plans had been altered for a railroad along the Upper West Side of Manhattan. About 50 speculators, owning close to 1,000 lots along the expected route, turned up to shake their fists and berate the commissioners as mentally ill. Their demonstration had a curative effect.


The emergence of the .nyc domain was the product of more than a decade of advocacy by people in the city, including Thomas Lowenhaupt, a technologist who lives in Jackson Heights, Queens.


It is a moment, he said, that compares to the 1811 map presented by John Randel Jr., an engineer, for developing Manhattan; it sketched out the street grid over land that was then forest and farm.


The building of .nyc could have the same transformational force.

“Done right, it can help build a more prosperous and livable environment,” Mr. Lowenhaupt said. “If this is going to be infrastructure for our city, we’ve got to take care with it.”

He argues that the city had, and still has, an opportunity to protect the .nyc domain name so that small businesses are not put at a disadvantage. One way, he said, would be to follow the approach used in London, where businesses had to submit evidence that they had been operating under the name they were trying to register.

“Without that, they’re catering to squatters,” Mr. Lowenhaupt said.

Ah, cybersquatting. A man in Minneola, Fla., who had nothing to do with the band Jethro Tull, but registered JethroTull.com, offered to sell it to the band for $13,000; at various points since the late 1990s, a website called WhiteHouse.com was used for pornography and real estate links, which people and children often stumbled on when they were meaning to go to WhiteHouse.gov. Forbes reported that in January, when a new domain called .clothing opened, “nobodies scattered around the globe” registered the names of brands like Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Aéropostale and Burberry.


Who, or what, is in charge?


Globally, the domain name system is regulated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, but other companies do the actual registration of sites.


Under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the city signed a contract with a registry called Neustar to administer the .nyc domain. Neustar will conduct auctions when more than one party tries to sign up for the same name. The city gets 40 percent of the revenue.

New York has also reserved 2,000 premium names — the list is not yet public — but has announced that it held onto neighborhood names. That means, for instance, ParkSlope.nyc. cannot be bought on the market.

“That was a positive step that the de Blasio administration took,” Mr. Lowenhaupt said.

Still, he added, “They are catering to a crowd around the world that is going to buy these names and sell them back to us at inflated prices.”

The city says the registry will be policed to make sure that each person or business is actually located in New York City, and not using some subterfuge.

But Mr. Lowenhaupt predicted that cybersquatters would find a way around the residency requirement. “It’s bad for mom-and-pop,” he said.

One of the mayor’s senior advisers, Jeff Merritt, told Mr. Lowenhaupt that he should not worry.

“I don’t believe there is any evidence to suggest that mom and pop businesses are losing out in any way,” Mr. Merritt wrote in an email on Sept. 7. “Rather, all indications suggest that .nyc has been incredibly well received by the small-business community.”


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