Ben Crawford is the CEO of domain industry firm CentralNic. Prior to joining that firm in 2009, Crawford worked at various jobs which combined his love of sports with Internet technology, including serving as executive producer for IBM’s official Sydney Olympic Games website.
The final barrier to a new era for the Internet was lifted this morning, when the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) voted 13 to 3 in favor of introducing new top level domains (“TLDs”) to compete with .com, .net, .org and country codes like .ca and .mx.
The vote, held in Singapore before a thousand-strong audience of tech insiders and broadcast live online, was met with a standing ovation. A core deliverable of ICANN since its inception, new TLDs have been the subject of six years of intense debate contributing to ICANN’s bottom-up approach to policy making. As one board member put it, “every imaginable aspect has been examined six ways from Sunday.”
A hundred potential applicants have gone public over those years with their ambitions to acquire new top level domains. These range from cities like .paris and .nyc, to brands like .canon and .hitachi, to verticals like .gay and .ski. Hundreds more have kept their plans secret, particularly due to the uncertainty that previously clouded the topic.
Why the need for these new TLDs? ICANN’s mission includes introducing more consumer choice — a blessing for everyone frustrated with finding that the ideal domain name for their new project is unavailable at the existing extensions.
For trademark owners, acquiring their own TLD creates a completely brand-safe online zone free from phishing, domain spoofing, knock-off sites, counterfeiting, and the gamut of other damaging activities that plague the Internet. Plus, a .brand TLD gives marketers the choice of any domain they want ending with their trademark. No matter what name you come up with for your new product or promotion, with your own .brand, the domain is available.
A More Equitable Internet
On a global scale, the need for new TLDs derives from the drive for an altogether greater good — a more equitable Internet. Regional communities such as the Galicians in Spain, the Venetians in Italy and the Kurds in Iraq have been active in asserting their need for domains that reflect their languages and cultures.
Moreover, recent developments will permit new TLDs to be in characters other than ASCII text (the letters and numbers on English-language keyboards). These new top level domains will usher in a true globalization of the Internet, with URL support in Chinese, Japanese, Cyrillic, Arabic, and dozens of other scripts.
Supporting the view that the public wants new top level domains are the recent successes of “repurposed country codes” like .co (officially the TLD for Colombia, but sold as an abbreviation for “company”) and .me (officially for Montenegro, sold for “unique personal brands”) as well as new SLDs (second level domains) like us.org in the United States and .com.de, about to be launched in Germany.
There are of course opponents to new TLDs. Complaints about the cost (an $185,000 application fee plus the cost of producing a 200-odd page application, plus the set-up and running costs) have been responded to by ICANN with the announcement of a $2 million grant program designated for applicants from developing countries. But the main objections actually come from major brands that already spend hundreds of thousands of dollars registering domains “defensively” to prevent others from using them, and which are concerned that a proliferation of new domains will cause these costs to escalate vastly with no added benefits.
ICANN has sought to mitigate this risk by introducing far more stringent protections for trademark owners than those that exist under the current generic TLDs, including a system that allows the rapid takedown of domains that abuse trademarks.
The timetable announced for the introduction of the new top level domains starts immediately with the preparation of complex application documents. As running a TLD involves taking responsibility for core infrastructure of the Internet, specialist technical providers are required to support each new TLD, and the applications must include comprehensive and fully-funded business plans and detailed policy documents governing the rules for usage of the new domains. The application window is between January and April 2012, and the applications are scrutinized by ICANN and then made public, so that objections from any quarter may be heard before the domain is granted.
The earliest we are likely to see one of these new TLDs in our search engine results is early 2013.
For new TLDs that are contested — for instance where multiple applicants apply for the same or similar domains — assuming all applications are of equal merit, the domain will be auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. As premium dot com domains occasionally sell for millions of dollars, we can expect these bidding wars to reach tens of millions of dollars. Toys ‘R’ Us paid $5.1 million for the domain toys.com in 2009. What does that mean for the value of .toys?