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Brand-Name Domains Cleared by ICANN

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced what President Rod Beckstrom called "one of the biggest changes ever to the Domain Name System" at the opening of its 41st annual meeting, being held in Singapore. The group approved a plan to expand the number of generic Top Level Domains used in online addresses.

The first round of applications will be accepted from Jan. 12 through April 12 next year. The approval process could take from nine to 20 months, so the first new TLDs probably will not begin appearing after the final dot in URLs until early 2013 at the soonest.

Domain names are the easy-to-read names, separated by dots, that are used in Uniform Resource Locators on the Web and in e-mail addresses, and which are associated with numerical IP addresses for routing data over the Internet. There currently are 22 generic TLDs, such as .com and .gov, and about 250 country code TLDs, such as .us.

The decision by ICANN will open the Domain Names System to an unlimited number of new generic TLDs, up to 1,000 a year, in not only ASCII or Latin script, but also in any other script, such as Arabic or Chinese. So, generic TLDs could also become brand-name TLDs, such as .google, .pepsi or .anything.

The decision caps more than three years of discussions and negotiations between ICANN, Internet stakeholders and government groups to make the Internet's naming system more comprehensive and competitive. It comes at a time when the Internet is making another historic shift with the transition to the next generation of Internet Protocols, IPv6, as the current IPv4 addressing system is being depleted.

"Today's decision will usher in the new Internet age," said Peter Dengate Thrush, outgoing chairman of the ICANN board of directors. "We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration."

ICANN will engage in a global outreach program to create awareness of the new program before the application process opens in January.

There were eight generic TLDs in place when ICANN was created in 1998 to manage, under the authority of the Commerce Department, the global Internet addressing scheme. Additional application rounds were held in in 2000 and in 2003-'04, adding another 14 domains. The current program is the result of an effort by ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization to create a standing policy for ongoing expansion. Various drafts of the Applicant Guidebook have been released since 2008, and ICANN approved the final guidelines June 20. Additional application rounds will be opened, but their dates have not been decided.

The ICANN board, in announcing the new program, would not make any estimate of the number of applications expected, but did say that 120 organizations have publicly expressed some interest in the process.

Under the guidelines, applicants, who will in effect be applying to create and operate a new registry business supporting the Domain Name System, will pay a $185,000 application fee to cover the cost of processing, with about one third set aside to cover litigation or other contingencies. The board has agreed to set aside up to $2 million to provide financial help to applicants in developing countries, although how that money would be used has not been decided.

There are six stages of evaluation: Administrative Check, Initial Evaluation, Extended Evaluation, String Contention, Dispute Resolution and Pre-delegation.

The shortest time period for a successful application would be two months for the Administrative Check, five months for the Initial Evaluation, and it then could move to the two-month Pre-delegation period if there were no objections or other concerns. If an application does not pass Initial Evaluation and goes into Extended Evaluation or is in the Dispute Resolution or String Contention, the process could take up to 20 months to complete.

Some details of the program still are being worked out. One of the major concerns about allowing new generic TLDs was trademark infringement, and ICANN still is developing protections.

"Currently those additional solutions include a trademark clearinghouse, the uniform rapid suspension system (URS), and a trademark post delegation dispute resolution procedure (PDDRP)," ICANN said in material describing the program.

The trademark clearinghouse would provide centralized storage and authentication of trademark information used to support protection services in domain name registries. The uniform rapid suspension system is being added to complement to the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy, and provide a faster and less expensive process for resolving clear-cut cases of infringement. The post delegation dispute resolution procedure will allow rights holders to make a complaint if they believe a registry is actively engaging in infringing behavior.

There have been efforts to expand the Internet's naming system outside ICANN alternate root systems, but applicants operating these systems will not receive preference in the New Generic TLD program.

"ICANN is committed to a single, authoritative public root for the DNS and to the management of that unique root in the public interest according to policies developed through community processes," the organization said.

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).

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