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Federal agency opening .gov Internet address to local, state governments

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tom Manheim is sick of his Web address.

It's long, confusing and embarrassing _ particularly because Manheim is a city government official in San Jose, Calif., home to Silicon Valley and the premier tech haven.

``It is very frustrating,'' Manheim said of the effort to change his city's address, now the awkward ci.san-jose.ca.us. ``That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.''

Now the federal government is finishing a plan to make it easier for state and local governments to get addresses ending in .gov _ once the sole domain of the feds.

The General Services Administration, which handles the .gov addresses, expects the standards to be in place by mid-October. The process lays out rules for application and format so the thousands of local and state jurisdictions _ as well as Indian nations _ can claim their .govs.

Marty Wagner, an associate administrator at GSA, said the new rules were sparked by letters and phone calls from local officials.

``You'd go to meetings with state or local folks, and you'd get buttonholed by them saying, 'We're part of the government, too,''' Wagner said.

Some states and cities _ such as Connecticut, Michigan and New York City _ already have .gov addresses, but not all use them. They got the addresses by asking GSA directly, sometimes waiting months as federal officials dickered over whether the applicant was worthy.

``Depending on where their thinking was on issuing .gov spaces (determined) whether you got it or not,'' said Gregg ``Rock'' Regan, Connecticut's chief information officer. ``It was a very undocumented process.''

Wagner said local officials are justified in their frustration.

``Their characterizations are about right,'' Wagner said. ``Things were really done on a somewhat ad-hoc process. What you're seeing is the government cleaning up its act.''

At one time, local governments _ along with schools and libraries _ were relegated to .US addresses, similar to other two-letter country codes. The Commerce Department, which handles most of the government's responsibility over Internet domain names, gave a company called NeuStar the right to administer that domain last fall.

Now .US isn't so special _ NeuStar offers it to almost any person, company or organization in the United States.

Local governments have been unsatisfied with the ungainly addresses for some time. Some have chosen addresses ending in .com or .net, even though those areas are already saturated.

Florida uses MyFlorida.com, while Kansas goes for AccessKansas.org. The addresses are not only easier to remember, but they provide a lot more personality than the vanilla .US.

Wagner said there is some room to play with .gov, too. Tennesseeanytime.gov would be fine, as would eMaryland.gov.

The only proposed restriction would stop states from embedding their names or postal codes into another word that would be confusing for visitors. So Indiana, with its postal code IN, wouldn't be allowed to claim win.gov or independence.gov.

Cities and towns are encouraged to include the postal code of their state, or, with the state government's permission, put the town site under the state umbrella. For example, San Jose could pick sanjose-ca.gov, or sanjose.ca.gov if California officials approve.

``You have to deal with issues like there is a Paris, Texas, and a Paris, Virginia,'' Wagner said.

With so many local governments, federal officials realize everyone won't be happy with any single choice. Conrad Cross, chief information officer of Orlando, Fla., said he preferred the old .US convention.

``Then we had a nice drag-down fight with our communications people because they insisted that it was too hard for people to figure out,'' Cross said. The city uses cityoforlando.net.

Cross said Orlando would probably get a .gov address, but was doubtful that his colleagues across the country would be content with the new GSA guidelines.

``I don't think you can force city governments and county governments to comply. It's a marketing thing,'' Cross said. ``I can just see us having this fight again.''
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