ICANN to open up new Internet domain names: who benefits?

For the first time, the Internet is unleveling the playing field for small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs, with a hefty price tag and associated fees for a new class of domain names.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

We’re about to see the largest “land rush” since the dawn of the commercial Web almost two decades ago. But unlike the dot-com craziness of the 1990s and 2000s, this is a land rush for the rich and well-connected on the Internet. So, for the first time, the Internet is unleveling the playing field a bit  — small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs need not apply. And, as some observers point out, the new names may potentially be a great source of confusion and legal wrangling.

Name your domain: ICANN meeting, 6-21-2011

Name your domain, but show us the money: ICANN meeting, June 21, 2011. Photo: ICANN

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — which oversees Internet domain names — announced that will start accepting applications for domain names in January 2012. The domain names will end in a suffix of the entity’s choosing — such as “.train,” or “.beeswax.”

During a special meeting in Singapore on Monday, the ICANN board approved a plan to dramatically increase the number of Internet domain name endings — called generic top-level domains (gTLDs) — from the current 22, which includes such familiar domains as .com, .org and .net.

“New domain names will change the way people find information on the Internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence,” ICANN predicts. “Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways.”

All fine and dandy, but these wonderful branding opportunities ICANN talks about come with a hefty fee of $185,000 per registration, along with proper documentation, and applications will only be accepted during a limited three-month time frame. ICANN says it will also hire an army of consultants to assist with the vetting process -- however, applicants will have to pay the tab for these consultants.

This will certainly keep the cybersquatters -- such as those who soaked up prime names such as “walmart-usa.com” -- at bay. But startups will likely to have to stick to the tried-and-true ".com" brands for now, perhaps even stigmitizing companies down the road.

Then there are the legalistic issues that will inevitably arise. In his post on the topic, ZDNet's Larry Dignan surfaces comments by CNet News’ Stephen Shankland that ICANN’s move is going to be a trademark headache. Businesses are likely to structure their online presence in multiple ways, say IBM.think or Lenovo.think. Who exactly will get that “think” domain? And in how many scripts would you need to reserve “think”? "Domain names can end in almost anything ranging from a city, to term like .eco or .green and native scripts from around the world. How many of these terms do companies need to lock down?"

The decision to proceed with the gTLD program follows many years of discussion, debate and deliberation with the Internet community, business groups and governments. The Applicant Guidebook, a rulebook explaining how to apply for a new gTLD, went through seven revisions to incorporate public comment.

ICANN will soon begin a global campaign to tell the world about this change in Internet names and to raise awareness. But applications for new domain names will be accepted only for a limited three-month period, from January 12, 2012 through April 12th.  Why this limitation?  According to Josh Bourne, managing partner of FairWinds Partners LLC, which advises companies on domain name purchases, this helps ensure confidentiality around company plans to secure and build brands around the names. Bourne, quoted by Reuters, also advises companies on the fence to register, even if they don’t plan to use the domain name in the immediate future. A domain name that bears too similar of a resemblance to another may not be accepted by ICANN, he warns.

(Cross-posted at SmartPlanet Business Brains.)

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