National Press Club

Internet opens to new level of domain names

January 11, 2012 | By Terry Hill | terry@terryhillcommunications.com

The Internet is about to get a lot larger.

Beginning Jan. 12, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which coordinates how the Internet communicates, will begin taking applications for new top-level domain names, launching the most significant change the system has undergone since the organization was established more than a decade ago.

Six years in development, the generic top-level domain program will herald a new era in the domain name system, said ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom. The step will allow entrepreneurs, businesses, governments and communities around the globe to apply for generic domain names of their own choosing such as .hotel or .peoria. Additionally, languages other than Latin-based will now be allowed Internet locations in their own scripts, such as Chinese or Arabic.

Currently, there are about two dozen of these generic domains, but there could be hundreds soon. The expansion isn’t expected to affect Internet operations, rather it should alter how users locate information and how businesses plan and structure their online presence.

“We believe the program will open up the Internet domain name system to further innovation,” Beckstrom said during a National Press Club Newsmaker event on Wednesday. “The (new) competition will help accomplish our mission of creating more consumer choices and competition in the global marketplace.”

Admitting that the move is viewed by some as controversial, Beckstrom said ICANN developed numerous safeguards to protect some rights holders, including those who own trademarks.

Other protections include criminal background checks on applicants, a public comment period open to anyone and, for the first time, the creation of a trademark clearinghouse database that will allow any party which holds government documentation to show proof of trademark ownership and challenge applications that attempt to usurp their domain names.

The application process, outlined in a 300-page guidebook, is pricey. The evaluation fee alone is $185,000. But some applicants, such as those in developing countries, may be eligible for a lower fee.

“Our commitment is to a globally unified, stable and secure Internet,” Beckstrom said, noting that the application process would not be conducted by ICANN, but by an expert panel outside the organization that would make decisions as to who wins and who loses.

The application period closes April 12. Details about the new program can be viewed here.