Icann domain name race is on

To the swift - and the rich - go the spoils in a new competition for Internet addresses. Get ready, set, go!

After years of debate and delay, the Internet's newest top-level domain names are up for grabs. And the Web's first land rush is beginning to wind down.

Until 2 October, anyone with a plan and $50,000 for a nonrefundable fee can apply to win the rights to the new top-level domains, which represent the first proposed expansion of the Web beyond its original .com, .net and .org suffixes.

The public gets two weeks to comment on proposals received between 5 September and the October deadline. A short list of finalists will be announced in November. By January, the International Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) expects to issue its final decisions.

So far, it's been a crawl rather than a sprint to the finish, an ICANN spokesman said.

"We did get one phone call -- the guy said he had a 'great proposal' and needed more information," said Icann spokesman Brett Lagrange.

Most observers expect the applications will start flooding in later, rather than sooner, because Icann has left so many questions unanswered.

For instance, the board hasn't decided how many new top-level domains to create. Icann president Esther Dyson said the group is considering adding between three and 20 new top-level domains, although she refused to elaborate further.

One potential bidder on the sidelines is Alan Ezier, cofounder and president of Website.ws. The company is perhaps best known for having paid the country of Western Samoa for the rights to use its country code, ws, as a domain.

Ezier said that if he does enter a bid and a plan, it won't be until the last minute because of the confusion he says ICANN has created.

"We're very unsure as to how they are going to make this decision," he said.

But the risk of losing $50,000 dollars and the headaches of dealing with Icann's confusion will pay off for domain winners.

Having the right to administer a top-level domain has created a financial giant out of Network Solutions, which has a US government contract to administer .com, .net., .org and .mil domains.

Ezier said it's a lucrative business proposition. "Think about how many hundreds of millions of computers there are around, yet only 5 million people have their own domains," he said. "That is going to change."

While none of the applications will be made public until a month from now, there is some indication of what may be in the hopper.

Some of the domains mentioned include limited-use ones, such as .movie or .bank. Other generic domains being mentioned include .web and .site.

Some of the potential bidders are also coming to light: They include a loose coalition of 22 different registrars -- including Registry.com and Network Solutions -- who have been meeting since Icann issued its decision to expand the top-level domains.

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