The Domain Name Commission Ltd (DNCL) has launched a four-month-long consultation exercise on a proposed major change to New Zealand's domain-name system -- allowing domain names of the form 'name.nz' as well as the format used to date -- for example 'name.co.nz' and 'name.org.nz'.

There are currently 14 "second-level" domains like .co. and anyone registering a name has to choose to operate under one of those. Some, like '.mil.' and '.govt.' , are reserved to particular categories of organisation.

The suggestion that names be registered with a simple .nz suffix would see New Zealand following the example of several other countries. Some, in fact, have never had "generic" second-level domains like '.co'.

Omitting what has been the second level means the individual name becomes the second level. The proposal is to introduce such second-level registrations alongside the established three-level syntax, which will continue to be available for both existing and new names.

"New Zealand's internet community has recently been vocal about allowing registrations at the second level," says the consultation paper citing a recent InternetNZ members' discussion where "several remarks were made about the

attractiveness of being able to register a name directly at the second level. Strong support was expressed for such a change.

"Public opinion surveys also indicate that the general public's appetite for change has grown," it adds.

Furthermore applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) at a global level, such as .music are now permitted.

DNCL proposes that for an initial "sunrise" period of "two or three months", all owners of X.Y.nz be offered the exclusive chance to apply for X.nz. They must tell one another of the application and try for agreement by "consent". Inducements by one to persuade the others to give up their bids are allowed; "it is important however, that any consent is freely obtained and is not coerced or forced," says a FAQ attached to the consultation document. "The Domain Name Commission retains the right to check that any consent is real."

If agreement cannot be reached, the name will not be allocated, the consultation document proposes. After the sunrise period, any such names not claimed will become generally available.

This, the commission says, is preferable to an auction, random draw or automatically assigning the name to the organisation that has held an X.Y.nz registration for longest. The latter two options could create problems against dispute resolutions DNCL has done in the past, while the auction idea is open to accusations that InternetNZ is making profit out of conflict.

Obviously second-level registration opens the opportunity for someone to register a generic-sounding name like bookshop.nz and solicit registration of sub-domains of the form name.bookshop.nz for profit.

Asked whether this creates a system outside DNCL's control but which might reflect on its reputation if not run to a high standard, DNCL chair Joy Liddicoat says that kind of question is "why we're having the consultation. It will be interesting to see that raised; should there be particular rules about using such names?"

Second-level names with obvious potential for confusion such as .com.nz (.com. being the commercial generic domain in many countries) will be excluded from availability, the consultation document proposes; but some people, says Liddicoat, believe even that restriction should not apply.

Amendments have been suggested to the DNC's dispute resolution procedures to accommodate the case where a generic name such as photo.nz - "a word or phrase that describes a class of product, service, profession, place or thing" - has been registered and the owner sets up a sub-domain using a name in which someone else may claim intellectual-property rights - for example kodak.photo.nz. Then the matter comes under the DNC dispute resolution procedure, just as it would for registration of a third-level domain such as kodak.co.nz.

There is a good deal of case-law in other jurisdictions on what constitutes a generic name, Liddicoat says.

The consultation document and background material may be read here. Submissions on the proposals are requested by noon on Thursday, 27 September, 2012. Following this consultation, the Domain Name Commission board will consider the submissions and decide whether or not to proceed with registrations at the second level.

If the board decides to proceed, a second public consultation will take place. No timeframe has been set for this.