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Dot-word TLD registration closes tonight, maybe for many years

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Today is the last chance for organisations that want to own their own top-level internet domain names to register their interest with ICANN.

If you want to run a dot-brand (.pepsi, .nike, .pampers) or a dot-city (.london, .paris, .rome) or a generic keyword gTLD (.music, .web, .blog), 29 March marks your final opportunity to get your foot in the door.

Tonight, at a minute before midnight GMT (0059 BST), the domain-name industry overlord will stop accepting new users into its TLD Application System (TAS).

TAS is essentially a secure web-based form used to request a gTLD delegation. It's also a prerequisite to applying for a new gTLD before ICANN's hard 12 April filing deadline. Opening a TAS account costs $5,000; filling in an application costs an additional $180,000.

The next window of opportunity to apply might not open for several years.

“We can’t pin it down with any certainty but we can make a rough estimate,” ICANN chairman Steve Crocker said earlier this month. “It’s time measured from here in years but not a large number of years. It’s probably a small number of years but I can’t pin it down greater than that because we’re running an experiment.”

Before ICANN starts to accept gTLD applications again, it has to process the first round and run some analysis of whether it helped increase competition and consumer choice without unfairly burdening trademark owners.

The first round of applications is not expected to be fully processed for two years, and the studies ICANN has promised to conduct could take a year or more after that.

Most domain-name industry players do not expect ICANN to start accepting applications again for three to five years. If lawsuits are filed, they could delay the programme.

The organisation has come in for substantial criticism from potential applicants for not providing greater clarity about when the second round will open.

It is widely expected that many applications will come from brand owners that have no interest in running a new gTLD registry but simply want to protect their trademarks.

While ICANN's rules have made top-level cybersquatting virtually impossible, some brands are worried that they could be locked out of future application rounds if another company with an identical or confusingly similar trademark decides to apply this time.

For example, it's not impossible that a successful application for .abc could prevent .bbc being assigned in future on the grounds that the two strings are confusingly similar.

Because nobody will know who's applying for what until ICANN reveals all on 2 May, companies have had to make a tricky judgement call about whether to apply.

As of this morning, ICANN said 839 TAS accounts had been registered, each of which can be used to apply for up to 49 new gTLDs.

Theoretically, that's a potential 41,111 applications even before the registration window closes, although it's expected that the number is more likely to be in the 1,000 to 2,000 range.

Even if many of these gTLDs are contested – there are already at least three known applicants for .music, for example – the internet is almost certainly going to get hundreds of new domain extensions over the next couple of years. ®

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