RealTime IT News

Players Jockey For New Top-Level Domains

A new Internet land grab is on the horizon. Now that most of the prime real estate is taken in generic top-level domains ending in .com, .net. and .org, there's renewed pressure to expand the gTLDs to include new domains such as .shop, .firm, and .web.

"There just is a dearth of relevant domain names out there. Companies can't find names that have any relevance, and [expanding] is the next logical step," said Ken Stubbs, chairman of the Internet Council of Registrars, one of the first five registrars recently accredited by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers.

CORE has long been a proponent of expanding the top-level domain space, but recently it took steps to put itself in pole position should such an expansion occur. Last March, CORE applied with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for service marks on a number of proposed gTLDs, including .INFO, REC, .WEB, .SHOP, .FIRM, and .NOM.

According to Stubbs, CORE will comply with whatever expansion plans are established by the U.S. Department of Commerce and ICANN and he insisted that CORE's trademark application is merely a way to prevent "future misunderstandings."

"All we're doing is letting people know that if we're lucky enough down the road, we'd like to use these TLDs. It's a formal notice, that's all," Stubbs said.

According to ICANN interim CEO Michael Roberts, expanding the top-level domain space is one of big issues on the Internet governance board's agenda this summer. Roberts said the organization's Names Council is forming a working group that will examine the gTLD expansions issue and make recommendations to the ICANN board in November.

But Roberts said there's equally strong opposition to expansion, particularly from large corporations that dread having to defend their trademarks from cybersquatters on a wider set of domains.

"The people who are anxious to get going on this are going to have to wait for the whole community to take a run at it. There are people who say they don't hear realistic arguments for expansion, and then there are others who say it should expand unless there are good reasons not to."

Among the firms that would like ICANN to hurry up is Iperdome, a company which registers personal domain names, or domains with the .PER ending. Iperdome president Jay Fenello said he's afraid ICANN will stop short of fostering true competition in gTLDs and instead will merely subcontract out the registry fulfillment function to dozens of registrars, much as it has done with the .com, .net, and .org gTLDs.

"We believe that there should be a competitive name space where TLDs are brands and companies can market them and have different policies, and Internet users would decide which succeed and which don't."

Because his company pioneered it, Fenello believes that Iperdome should have first dibs on the .PER top-level domain. But Roberts said ICANN doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past by creating new domain registration monopolies. The final word on the subject may have to come from the U.S. government. According to Amendment 11 of Department of Commerce's contract with Network Solutions, no top level domain can be added to the root system without permission of the US.

Separately Thursday, ICANN released an 8-page status report to Commerce on its first months of operation.

A Real Audio interview with Roberts and Register.com CEO Richard Forman about ICANN's work to date is available here.