One of five organisations around the world accredited last month to register domain names on the internet is the University of Melbourne's commercial information technology offshoot, Melbourne IT.
The decision could be worth millions of dollars a year to the university.
Melbourne IT was named by the American-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as one of the five authorised to issue and administer .com, .org and .net domain names. The company's business division, Internet Names Australia, already administers the .com.au domain and is Australia's largest supplier of internet names and related services.
The ICANN decision to allocate issuing rights to the five organisations is part of an international campaign to bring order and competition to the currently chaotic business of issuing, registering and administering addresses on the Internet.
The other "testbed" registrars are America Online, the world's biggest internet service provider, the European-based Internet Council of Registrars (CORE) of which Melbourne IT is a member, France Telecom, and Register.com, a relatively small New York-based registry.
The .com, .net and .org domains were previously registered only by the American company Network Solutions Incorporated. CORE led the movement to break its monopoly and bring some order to the internet.
Melbourne IT will now compete for name registrations with NSI and the other four registrars. More registries will be selected by ICANN over the next few months but the initial choice of Melbourne IT to be among the first five is a remarkable coup for the university.
Colin Adam, chair of the Melbourne IT board, said although the company would lose its monopoly over .com.au registration after June 30, it was likely to remain the major player on the local scene.
Dr Adam, who is also deputy chief executive of the national research company CSIRO, said ICANN's decision created a major opportunity for Melbourne IT. He believed the university company had been chosen because it had an established reputation, a track record in registering companies in Australia, and was seen as having "very good people with a high level of technical excellence".
"The company has a substantial reputation in this growing field and faces a bright future with its clever and highly-motivated staff," Adam said. "The challenge now facing us is how to develop a global business opportunity from an Australian base. This may require establishing relationships and ventures with other organisations in the years ahead."
Melbourne IT already earns a profit for the university of about $2 million ($820,000) a year. Last year, 1.9 million domain names were registered in .com, .net, and .org. This is expected to increase by up to 80 per cent over the next 12 months and to continue expanding exponentially as companies and individuals connect to the internet.
ICANN is a new global non-profit corporation formed to supervise a set of the internet's key technical management functions. Over the next 18 months, ICANN will gradually assume control of the international domain name system and root server systems, the allocation of IP address space and the assignment of protocol parameters which were previously handled by the United States government or by its contractors and volunteers.
Adam said internet expansion required a technical management body that was more formalised and more fully reflective "of the geographic diversity of the net community".