ICANN kicks off Internet's largest expansion in history

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers plans to release on June 13 the names of more than 2,000 new generic top-level domains that have been applied for in the largest expansion of Internet real estate to date.

“The Internet as we know it is about to be history,” Josh Bourne, a managing partner at the domain name consulting firm FairWinds Partners, told reporters June 12.

Allowing for hyperbole, ICANN’s New gTLD program marks a major milestone in the evolution of the Internet, one that will work for either good or ill, according to your point of view. But the Internet’s 22 established generic top-level domains now in use are not going to disappear, and new ones will not begin appearing in your browser’s address window before early next year at the earliest.

Related coverage:

Internet set for 'most significant' domain expansion in history

ICANN sets big 'Reveal' on new Top Level Domain names

Proponents of the expansion say it will open the Internet to greater innovation by offering an alternative to the overcrowded ghettos of the current domain naming system and breaking the stranglehold of current registry operators.

Critics say it is a solution without a problem that will confuse consumers and open up an Internet land grab dominated by big corporations.

Generic top-level domains are the suffixes on URLs that appear to the right of the final dot in the address, and all other more specific domains fall into the 22 gTLDs (as well as a larger number of country TLDs).

ICANN, the nonprofit corporation that oversees the Internet’s Domain Name System under an agreement with the Commerce Department, approved the unlimited expansion gTLDs this month, allowing thousands of organizations to request new domain names. The application process cost $185,000 for each domain applied for, and when the application period closed May 30 there had been 2,091 applications submitted or in progress, for which ICANN had received about $350 million in fees, it said.

ICANN plans to publish the names applied for on June 13, which it is calling "Reveal Day," on its icann.org website, which will initiate a number of processes. It will open a 60-day public comment period and a seven-month period to file formal objections to a requested name. An initial review of applicants and their requested names will begin in July. If there are no formal objections, no problems with the name are found in the initial evaluation, and the applicant has the operational, technical and financial capabilities to operate a gTLD registry, the new domain could be allocated in December or January.

Extended evaluations to resolve problems and resolution of disputes over contested names will take more time. Probably the most contentious element of ICANN’s review process is batching, the process of bundling applications into batches of about 500 each for evaluation. The system was adopted to break the evaluation process into manageable bites, but some say it will create disparities between those in early and late batches.

The difference in approval time for the first and last batches will be a number of years, “at least two, if not three or more,” which could help decide the winners and losers in the domain space land rush, Bourne said. “The consequences of being in a late batch is a critical outcome.”

So far, information about who is applying for which names has been anecdotal and spotty, but a few trends have emerged. It comes as no surprise that large companies with lots of money apparently will dominate the process.

FairWinds held a workshop for clients on the new gTLD program June 12. During a news conference afterward, partners said that about one-third of the applications came from what the firm calls strategic global enterprises and said its large clients filed an average of 2.72 applications each.

ICANN said that the average number of filings for all applicants was about 1.5 each, indicating that larger companies indeed are asking for many more names. About 70 percent of the domain names FairWinds’ clients applied for were brand names, and 30 percent were generic category names.

ICANN policy prohibits awarding new top-level domain names that are confusingly similar, even if they are in different business sectors. Bourne used the example of Swiss banking company UBS and the U.S. delivery company UPS, which apparently would be too similar to both be approved if applied for. These requirements, plus disputes between applicants seeking the same name are likely to ensure plenty of disputes behind the scenes over the next several years.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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