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ICANN snubs critics, opens domain extension floodgates

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Global domain name overseer ICANN has shrugged off intense criticism from big brands and parts of the US government, and will tonight start allowing companies to apply for new top-level domain names.

For a hefty $185,000 (£119,500) processing fee – a third of which will be dumped into ICANN's legal defence fund – any company or organisation in good standing can attempt to get its hands on a right-of-the-dot vanity address that will be the functional equivalent of .com or .uk.

Depending on who you ask, these new "gTLDs" represent either the biggest revolution in internet branding and navigation in 30 years, or the biggest example of shameless money-grubbing by a domain name industry that has been allowed to run wild.

ICANN and its supporters in the domain name industry say that the new gTLD expansion will promote competition and consumer choice as well as spark some innovation.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC last night, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom called the new gTLD programme "the most significant opening in the history of the domain name system".

"Whenever you open up any new technologies and you create standards there tends to be innovation," Beckstrom said. "What does that innovation look like? Where's it going to go? We don't know. That's why it's called innovation."

Rebuffing critics who claimed the programme had been rushed and should be delayed, Beckstrom noted that it has been under development in the ICANN community for six years. During that time over 2,000 comments were received and mashed up by ICANN to form its Applicant Guidebook – the bible for new gTLD applicants – Beckstrom said.

Domain name registry service providers currently expect ICANN to receive between 1,000 and 1,500 applications, about two-thirds of which will be for so-called "dot-brand" gTLDs. So far only a handful of companies have announced their intention to apply for a dot-brand, among them are Hitachi (.hitachi), Canon (.canon) and Deloitte (.deloitte).

Geographic gTLDs are expected to account for about one in 10 applications, according to ARI Registry Services, a domain services provider. Many major cities – including London, New York, Berlin, Paris and Las Vegas – have already announced their intention to apply for "dot-city" domains.

There are also expected to be hundreds of examples of gTLDs related to specific niche industries – .wine and .jewelers have already been proposed – as well as mass-appeal strings such as .blog, .web, .music and .sport.

The programme will also enable organisations to apply for gTLDs in non-Latin, non-ASCII scripts, such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and Chinese. Currently only a couple of dozen country-code extensions have local-script equivalents.

"There's a sense around the world that this is fair and this is right, that they should have this access," Beckstrom, who has been promoting the programme at small events in 20 countries for the last few months, said in DC yesterday.

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