Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/01/11/icann_gtld/

ICANN snubs critics, opens domain extension floodgates

Buy .whatever-you-want for just $185,000

By Kevin Murphy

Posted in Networks, 11th January 2012 12:46 GMT

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.

Not everyone is convinced

The process has recently come under fierce criticism, largely in the United States, as a result of a campaign orchestrated by the Association of National Advertisers, which has been fighting the new gTLD programme almost since it was finalised by ICANN last June. ANA's new Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight spin-off has some 102 trade associations and 59 individual companies among its membership.

CRIDO's supporters believe that a massive expansion of the domain name universe will lead to an increase in phishing, fraud and cybersquatting, increasing legal costs for big brand holders and forcing them to apply for "dot-brand" gTLDs defensively.

The organisation successfully lobbied for hearings into ICANN in both houses of the US Congress, which led to a number of concerned letters last month from congressmen to the Department of Commerce, the government agency tasked with overseeing ICANN.

ICANN has also received demands for special protection from 28 intergovernmental organisations including the UN, World Intellectual Property Organisation and World Health Organisation, and a warning about "infinite opportunities" for cyber-fraud from the US Federal Trade Commission.

"Never before has ICANN faced this level of public scrutiny and concern by policy makers at the highest levels of government and from stakeholders which have, heretofore, been all but ignored by ICANN," ANA president Bob Liodice wrote to ICANN on Monday.

ANA called for ICANN to implement a "do not sell" block-list of trademarks and IGO names that would eliminate the perceived need for companies and organisations to defensively apply for gTLDs.

ICANN has yet to formally respond to any of these written complaints, but Beckstrom and other supporters of the expansion have said that the new gTLD programme already contains trademark protection mechanisms and that defensive gTLD applications are unnecessary.

"No reasons were given for delay," Beckstrom said yesterday, explaining ICANN's decision to stick to its 12 January launch date. "No new information has come in in the last few months."

He described the continuing objections as "a sign of a healthy multi-stakeholder model – the debate never stops", and noted that "the greatest reason it's taken so long to develop this programme was our attention to intellectual property issues".

New gTLDs created by ICANN will have more trademark protection mechanisms than those available for popular extensions such as .com and .org, but arguably they're not as strong as those adopted by ICM Registry, which recently launched .xxx for porn sites.

Indeed, some lobbyists such as the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, have called for new gTLDs to be obliged to offer brand owners defensive registrations for a one-time fee. This was available in .xxx but will not be available in new gTLDs unless registries choose to offer it.

While the "do not sell" list proposed by ANA is currently not under consideration, the US Department of Commerce recently did an about-face and told ICANN that it plans to reopen the debate about trademark protection mechanisms in May, when all the gTLD applications have been filed.

Lawrence Strickling, the department's assistant secretary with most direct oversight of ICANN, told the organisation that "it would not be healthy for the expansion program if a large number of companies file defensive top-level applications when they have no interest in operating a registry".

Many companies in the US are operating under the misconception that defensive applications for "dot-brands" will be necessary to prevent cybersquatting, according to sources, which is not the case.

Strickling has previously warned that if the US government is perceived to oversee ICANN with a heavy hand, it will give "ammunition" to other nation states that want develop their own internet policies.

ICANN will begin to accept applications from a minute past midnight (GMT) on Thursday in Blighty, which is just after 4pm (PST) today in its home state of California.

Recent developments in the US have not been sufficient to derail the programme but they have been enough to increase the uncertainty about what trademark protections successful new gTLD registry applicants will be forced to implement. ®