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THE CUTTING EDGE / CYBERNEWS | HEARD ON THE BEAT

June 09, 1997|GREG MILLER

Imminent Domains: The pending creation of a slate of new Internet addresses is supposed to relieve a severe real estate crunch in cyberspace. But several recent events have made it clear that, at least for now, the digital land grab continues.

For starters, an anonymous Texas buyer reportedly paid $150,000 last week for the http://www.business.com address, a record price for an Internet domain, according to Internet Domain Names Inc., a Houston company that helped complete the sale.

Then Microsoft Corp. took legal aim at a Cal State Northridge student, convincing him to give up his collection of addresses using the company's name.

Meanwhile, a handful of companies were busy selling their services as digital sooners, promising to grab new addresses that could be released later this year and hold them for customers willing to pay a fee.

"There's a lot of craziness right now," said Pinky Brand, vice president of Internet Domain Names. "You hear that there's no money to be made on the Internet, but obviously these people feel differently."

The scramble for Web addresses has been going on since the Internet went mainstream several years ago. Much of the activity is fueled by so-called cyber squatters, who register addresses, sometimes based on company names, then sell them to the highest bidders.

Such speculating takes place largely because Internet addresses are doled out, for $100 apiece, on a first-come, first-served basis by Network Solutions Inc., a company in Virginia.

The value of these addresses could diminish with plans for other companies to begin offering alternatives to the .com, .net and .org domains available now. Some examples of the new suffixes include .firm, .store and .info.

But so far, the proposed changes have only added to the confusion and frenzied activity.

"There's really no yardstick right now for what is a reasonable price for a domain," said Ken Lawson, chief executive of Investors Media Group in Westlake Village.

Lawson hopes to profit from the situation through his company's http://www.fordomains.com Web site, a sort of online auction house for Web addresses. Would-be sellers can list their domains on Lawson's site for $10 a month.

A number of other companies are trying to profit by being first in line for the new domains. Internet Unlimited Inc.'s Web site, http://www.123domainme.com, invites customers to preregister for new addresses and promises to submit the requests the instant the new domains are officially available.

The initial charge is $15, plus an extra $35 later if Internet Unlimited succeeds in securing the requested address.

"The squatters are going for generic words like stocks.firm," said Kenn Wagenheim, president of Internet Unlimited, which is based in Bethlehem, Pa.

So far, the company has fielded about 300 requests, Wagenheim said. When asked whether many of those came from potential squatters, he replied, "Oh, definitely."

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