ICANN board okays plan for new top-level domains

More sponsored top-level domain (TLD) names are coming to the Internet, but it is unclear how many and how soon, the organization that manages the Internet's domain name space said Sunday.

The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) unanimously approved here on Sunday a proposal to add "a limited number" of sponsored TLDs to the seven new domains selected as a "proof of concept" two years ago.

Sponsored domains are created for specific community groups, unlike generic domains such as ".com." Existing sponsored domains include ".museum" and ".coop," which are meant for use by museums and cooperative organizations.

Initially, ICANN of Marina del Rey, California, had said it would allow three more sponsored TLDs, but that number was abandoned as it came under fire from an audience filled with interested parties here at ICANN's annual meeting.

"The three was to indicate that it was going to be a small number, there is no prime number requirement," Stuart Lynn, ICANN's president and chief executive officer (CEO) and initiator of the proposal said in a meeting with reporters.

There is plenty of interest in TLDs. Two yeas ago ICANN only approved seven of the 191 proposed names. On Saturday, during ICANN's public forum, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) stated its case for ".travel," the World Health Organization (WHO) lobbied for ".health," Nokia Corp. for ".mobile" and a group of Internet companies said it wants ".III" for individuals.

Nokia, IATA and the WHO also applied in 2000 and are now pushing ICANN to hurry along with the additional TLDs. Cary Karp, president and CEO of the Museum Domain Management Association, who was lucky the first time around, said ICANN "opened the barn doors" with domains like ".museum."

Lynn will draft a document that will provide details of what qualities ICANN should look at when considering applications from organizations that want to run a TLD. Future domain name owners should have some safeguards that the TLD is run by a solid organization, he said. Audience members reminded ICANN that it is a technical coordinator and that it should not go down the path of semantic authentication of domain requests.

Opponents of adding TLDs, mostly large corporations fearing more intellectual property cases over domain names, want ICANN to complete the evaluation of the seven TLDs approved in 2000 before adding more domains.

Some of those new domains are successful; the millionth ".info" domain was registered last month, for example. The restricted sponsored community domains have fewer registrants, with several hundred for ".museum" and registration for ".pro" for professionals has not even begun.

"I have had a lot of letters from people who are opposed to expanding the TLD space until we finish the evaluation, but are okay with going forward with some sponsored TLDs," said Lynn.

There is no set time for Lynn to finish the document that details which criteria should be used for adding some more community TLDs, Lynn said. "But it is very high on the priority list," he added.

However, ICANN has much more work to do. The much-maligned nonprofit group also on Sunday approved a plan to overhaul itself and Lynn is leaving in March, a successor has not yet been found.