Dot-Whatever: ICANN to Review New Proposals

For a $US50,000 application fee, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will consider proposals to expand the number of top-level domains.

Top-level domains (TLDs) are the suffixes such as .com, .org, and .net that append URLs (universal resource locators) on the Internet. There's no guarantee that ICANN will accept proposals to add a new TLD, but at least 29 companies, organizations and individuals have thus far expressed an interest in becoming the registering agent for new suffixes like .web, .inc and .fam.

ICANN will accept applications from Sept. 5 to Oct. 2 from any organization, and then will take public comments on the matter for two weeks before deciding which domains to accept. Details for applying, including criteria for approval, will be available Aug. 15, according to the ICANN Web site. ICANN was formed in late 1998 to take over management of the Internet's domain name system, IP (Internet Protocol) address number allocation and protocols.

The $US50,000 application fee is non-refundable, which could leave cash-strapped organizations unable to make TLD proposals.

"It's a lot to ask an NGO (non-governmental organization) to pop 50 grand and throw the money away," said James Love, president of the Consumer Project on Technology, a nonprofit advocacy organization. "My guess is that it's going to chill the process."

Love is critical of the high cost of the entry fee, which may discourage more creative kinds of domain names. His group is considering suffixes like .customers, .union for labor groups, and .isnotfair, .isnotgreen and .sucks for protest sites.

"We would love to see an expansion of the name space. (E-commerce) is important, but it's not the only thing the Internet is for," he said.

Conventional wisdom would call such suffixes inelegant compared to simple three-letter TLDs, but Love contends the time has come to get away from that thinking.

"I think it's a good idea to get rid of the fetish over three letters," he said. "You should pick the letters that work for the TLD."

Catchy dot-com names, and by extension catchy TLDs, are valuable property on the Web, particularly as the list of available addresses shrinks. Western Samoa, for example, uses the country code ".ws" on Web addresses linked to that country, but that code also could stand for "Web site." So, the nation cut a deal.

"Western Samoa has given permission to market it (the ".ws") as 'Web site'," said George DeCarlo, chief technology officer for domain registrar Dotster.

Dotster began registering ".ws" sites two weeks ago, and has 1,500 customers so far, with fast growth, he said. "It kind of gives a good indication of the interest in new domain names," DeCarlo said.

Dotster will begin registering company sites today with the domain ".tv" -- which has before now stood for the Pacific island of Tuvalu -- and has expressed interest in proposing .firm, .ecom and .biz.

Still, DeCarlo said that the $US50,000 application fee is a gamble. ICANN hasn't yet determined if it will allow companies like Dotster to make money off of registering TLDs. The non-refundable fee could be paid and never recouped as a result.

The fee will offset costs for performing technical, financial, business, and legal analyses according to ICANN's Web site. ICANN is a nonprofit corporation.

ICANN representatives could not be reached for comment about the registration fee and the registration process.

Efforts by companies like Microsoft to quickly register addresses which contain variations on its name add another element to the question of what TLDs will win acceptance and how they will be used. "Cybersquatting" cases where copywritten names are registered as Web addresses by non-copyright holders rage in U.S. courts and before World Intellectual Property Organization arbitrators.

As an example, notHarvard.com Inc. is suing Harvard University in a preemptive attempt to show they are not infringing on Harvard's copyright.

So, who will get the first crack at, say, www.microsoft.sucks?

"That's the hardest issue and that's probably why we've taken so long to get here," DeCarlo said adding that the issues involved include "intellectual property, bad faith registering, trademarks, and free speech."

ICANN, in Marina del Rey, California, can be found online at http://www.icann.org/.

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