ICANN opens up 'right of the dot'

Board of Web regulator gives green light to open up generic top-level domains beyond existing 22 and allow myriad possibilities for organizations to market themselves, say execs who add that this signals "biggest change" of the Internet.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved the proposal to allow for more generic top-level domains (gTLDs) beyond the existing 22, after the majority of board members gave the thumbs up for the initiative--which, however, will only be implemented end-2012.

At ICANN's 41st Public Meeting held here Monday, 12 board members approved the gTLDs proposal while one objected and two abstained. This move will expand the number of gTLDs from the current 22, which includes .com, .org and .net, the organization stated.

Rod Beckstrom, who was in town for the meeting, proclaimed the decision as "opening up the right of the dot" and said 120 companies have already stated their interest in applying for their trademark-related TLDs.

He stressed during a press briefing held after the board meeting that the interests were declared by the companies and the organization had not received any "expressions of interests". This was because the ICANN community decided not to solicit such interests and, as such, has "no forecasts" on the number of applicants expected when the "sunrise" phase of registration is open, Beckstrom explained.

A not-for-profit private-sector organization responsible for administering the Web, ICANN will open up the application process for new gTLDs from Jan. 12, 2012, for three months until Apr. 12, he noted.

"ICANN has opened the Internet's naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today's decision respects the rights of groups to create TLDs in any language or script," he said. "We hope this allows the domain name system (DNS) to better serve all of mankind."

Adrian Kinderis, CEO of domain name registrar, AusRegistry, said the new gTLDs will "open the floodgates" for companies and entrepreneurs to own their own trusted, regulated slice of Internet real estate.

Asia, in particular, will stand to benefit from this new development, Kinderis noted.

"Asian entrepreneurs are some of the most enterprising in the world, so we're expecting them to move quickly to grasp their share of this billion-dollar opportunity," he said in a press statement.

Asked why there is a six-month gap between approving the project and receiving applications, Beckstrom said this would allow ICANN to deploy a four-month "communications program", which aims to bring awareness of the availability of these domain names to the wider community, particularly, among emerging markets.

He also pointed out that the "first possible time" for the approval of these new applications will be in late-2012, and the contracts signed between ICANN and applicants are "living documents" that are subject to changes where necessary. These will be automatically renewed if the applicant "performs consistently" at a high service standard.

Applicants will have to fork over US$185,000 for the application of gTLDs, a figure which Beckstrom said was calculated based on a "cost recovery process" that includes paying for the cost of the evaluation process, as well as recouping costs needed to develop the system that will support the DNS.

Specifically, US$25,000 to US$26,000 of each application fee will be redirected to ICANN's reserves fund, which helped fund the project, he added.

He also noted that the application fee could be increased or lowered as the figure is an estimate, and ICANN "does not expect" any profit to be made via these applications.

"We adhere strictly to our not-for-profit guidelines. If there are profits made, we will consult the community to come up with a process to return the monies to those involved," he said.

Internet's "biggest change"
According to Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the ICANN board, who was at the same briefing, opening up the Web to new gTLDs marks the "biggest change in the Internet". While initiatives such as DNSSEC (DNS security extensions) and Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) were also significant introductions to the Web, allowing more gTLDs will be a milestone people will remember few years down the road, he said.

Dengate also expressed "relief" that the project is finally given the go-ahead after being on the board's agenda for the past three years. The executive will be stepping down from his role once this week's meeting in Singapore ends.

Quizzed on the possibility of permitting controversial domain names such as .gay or .god, Thrush admitted that there will inevitably be such applications. However, he noted that ICANN is currently looking into safeguards and policy protocols that will help filter out such applications.

Additionally, he said the organization will be compiling the list of applications and offer governments first look into the proposed gTLDs as part of its "early warning system". Governments can then question the applicants if such gTLDs are advisable and whether they would like to carry on with the application. This preview will take place before the six-step evaluation process every gTLD applicant will have to go through, the board chairman stated.

ICANN in March rejected a U.S. initiative to grant governments the right to veto controversial gTLDs. Instead, it said it will be open to nonbinding "advice" from governments, according to the report.

Editorial standards