Domain Expansion May Be Near

New generic top-level domains (gTLDs) could hit the Internet as soon as the end of the year, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers said in a report issued Wednesday.

The ICANN board of directors will consider the adoption of a policy to create new gTLDs at its next meeting in Yokohama, Japan on July 15-16. If the board does adopt such a policy, under the current suggested schedule, ICANN will issue a formal call for proposals of new gTLDs on Aug. 1. The deadline for proposals would be Oct. 1. ICANN would hold public comment on the proposals until Oct. 8. On Nov. 1, ICANN would announce the new gTLDs to be added to the Domain Name System (DNS) root, and ICANN and the selected registry applicants would sign and publish the new registry contracts by Dec. 1.

Current gTLDs include .com, .org, .net, .edu, .int, .mil, and .gov. No new gTLDs have been created since the late 1980s.

A number of tough questions swirl around the creation of new gTLDs, like how many to add, how to introduce them and what sort of trademark protections should be considered.

Because ICANN’s primary charge under the U.S. government’s White Paper is preserving the stability of the Internet, some of the most contentious discussion has surrounded how many TLDs to add and how they should be introduced. ICANN said it is concerned about the possibility of creating a “land rush” of query and transaction loads during the first few days of registration. It is also concerned about domain name disputes that would be created by infringements of intellectual property rights.

Also, the report said, “Many have noted that, as a practical matter, the introduction of new TLDs is not an easily reversible act, since eliminating a TLD (including all domain names registered within it) once it has been created may create significant hardships. For these reasons, some have argued that the TLD introductions should begin with a relatively small group, so that if difficulties arise they are of limited scope and can be effectively addressed before proceeding with additional TLDs.”

ICANN said three broad reasons for the creation of new gTLDs have been cited by members of the Internet community over the past several years. First, some Internet users believe the creation of new gTLDs will enhance competition in the provision of registration services. Secondly, some users said new gTLDs would enhance the utility of the DNS. Finally, a group of Internet users believe new gTLDs are needed to increase the number of domain names available.

The first reason has in many ways already been addressed by the dismantling of Network Solutions Inc.‘s monopoly. Until last year, Network Solutions , through a contract with the U.S. government, was the only source for the registration of .com, .net and .org domains. Currently, 45 different registrars have been accredited to register domains.

“Competition at the registrar level is robust, resulting in prices significantly lower than a year ago and a much larger array of service offerings from which consumers may choose,” ICANN said in the report.

However, while competition has been created at the registrar level, Network Solutions is still the sole operator of the registry — the authoritative database that maps names within the .com, .net and .org TLDs to IP addresses.

“This situation limits the effectiveness of overall competition and, even aside from strictly competitive issues, gives rise to concerns over the Internet community’s lack of vendor diversity,” the report said. “Some have argued these concerns (competition and vendor diversity) make it appropriate to introduce one or more alternative, fully open, globally available TLDs. Others have arg

ued that these concerns are no longer so pressing as to justify adding new open TLDs.”

According to the report, proponents of the second reason (enhancing the utility of the DNS), advocate judging the appropriateness of new TLDs by whether they make it easier for Internet users to find Web sites and resources they are seeking. ICANN said supporters of this reason favor adding special-purpose TLDs (like .edu which is restricted to educational institutions) rather than undifferentiated, open TLDs.

A number of differentiated TLDs have been proposed, and include: .travel (for the travel industry), .movie (for Web sites dedicated to particular films), .banc (for financial institutions, .xxx or .sex (restricted to adult uses), .museum (for museums), .union (for labor unions), and .protest (for advocacy groups).

According to an independent national poll underway by registrar NameSecure, the most popular idea for a new TLD is .shop (for retailers), with 18 percent of about 3,500 votes. The suggestions of .web (for Web-related activities) and .fam (for family use) have second and third place with 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively. NameSecure said the poll began on May 1 and will continue until ICANN opens its meeting.

Finally, the third reason (increasing the number of domain names) is often based on the premise that “all the good names are already taken,” the report said.

But ICANN said the number of second-level domain names (like InternetNews in is actually quite large, and only a bare fraction have been used. The report noted that some people have said that the group of useful or desirable names is much smaller than the total theoretically possible.

“While this observation may be correct, even a slight lengthening of possible second-level domain names increases the available possibilities much more dramatically than the addition of new TLDs,” the report said. “For example, under the currently followed format rules increasing second-level domain name length by one character multiplies the possible domain names by 37, while adding three new TLDs similar to .com, .net, and .org would only double them.”

ICANN has requested public comment on its report. The deadline for comment is July 10.

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