January 11, 2012, 4:34 PM

ICANN to start accepting applications for new web domain names

The fee to apply for a top-level domain name starts at $185,000.

Allison Enright

Editor

Lead Photo

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, will begin accepting applications for new generic top-level domain names tomorrow. Businesses and communities can file an application with ICANN, which manages the web addressing system, for nearly every word in any language or character set for use as a top-level domain. A top-level domain is the term that follows the final period in a web address, such as .com, .org and .gov.

ICANN’s new plan enables retailers and manufacturers to create or buy domains that describe their businesses. A camera company could, for instance, use the .camera domain, or a subdomain that includes .camera. A company could use its own name as a domain, as in books.Amazon or clothing.Macys.

Only 22 top-level generic domain terms are approved for use today, along with about 250 country-specific domains like .uk (United Kingdom) and .ca (Canada). ICANN’s move to expand the way domain names are approved and managed has raised concerns among legislators and industry groups. Last month, U.S. lawmakers urged ICANN to move slowly on changes, and this week the Association of National Advertisers trade group reiterated its cite concerns about how opening the Internet address system may create fraud. “It is clear that should ICANN proceed without heeding the calls of these constituencies for improvements and reform, the result will be irreparable damage to countless stakeholders, including the global law enforcement community, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, consumers and brand owners in the commercial sector,” the letter said.

A primary concern is cybersquatting, where a web address is essentially held for ransom by its owner and an organization or person who has a legitimate reason for wanting the name—a business name, brand or trademark, for example—can’t easily buy it. ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said today during a press conference that new provisions have been added to ICANN’s use guidelines that give ICANN the right to rescind a generic top-level domain if it is being used for fraud, but provided no further details.

He also said that another new provision requires any new top-level domain name owner that intends to then sell addresses to go through what he called a “sunrise registration period” where trademark holders can register addresses using that domain before others can.  Thus, for example, if someone registers the .camera top-level domain Canon would get first crack at buying the Canon.camera sub-domain. Prices are set through negotiations between buyers and sellers. Major brands have expressed concern they could be forced to buy many sub-domains that they have no intention to use just to keep them out of the hands of others.

Under the new system, once ICANN grants the top-level domain name to an applicant, that applicant essentially controls how it is managed and can set whatever price it wants to charge for addresses that contain it. For example, if Amazon.com Inc. subsidiary and shoe e-retailer Zappos.com files for and is approved for the generic top-level domain .shoes, any shoe brand or e-retailer that wants to have a .shoes address would have to get it from Zappos. Zappos can choose to keep all .shoes addresses for its own use, or it can charge the brand or e-retailer that wants a .shoes address anything it wants to. Experts have said that retailers interested in registering subdomains would likely pay a much lower cost, perhaps a few hundred dollars, though costs could accumulate for companies seeking to control a wide range of web addresses.

ICANN says the fee to apply for a top-level domain name runs $185,000, and it will accept applications starting tomorrow through Apr. 12. It will publish a full list of applicants May 1. Each application review is expected to take several months, ICANN says. Applications that pass ICANN’s initial review, which includes conducting criminal background checks on all officers of applying companies, will then be open for public review and comment for seven months. Anyone can file a formal objection for an ICANN panel to review in making its final decision.

If two or more parties file an application for the same domain name, ICANN will determine who has the greater right to it based on the information included in the application, although Beckstrom said ICANN gives priority to communities over private enterprise. For example, if the city of Oshkosh, WI, applies for the domain .oshkosh as does children’s clothing manufacturer and retailer OshKosh B’gosh Inc., Oshkosh, WI, will get preference in ICANN’s review. In instances where the review panel determines both parties have equal rights to the domain, it will ask the parties to come to decision. If they refuse or cannot come to a mutual decision, ICANN will run an auction with the parties and the highest bidder gets the domain. ICANN says in the unlikely event a domain name goes to auction, all proceeds will go to charity.

If an application sails through the review processes with no objections, ICANN could start formally granting the new domains in early 2013. Brand management firm Corporation Service Co. predicts 100 to 300 new top-level domains will debut in 2013.

Multiple companies have publicly said they intend to file applications for a generic top-level domain, including Canon, Motorola and Deloitte. Major world cities, including New York, Paris and Rome, have also said they intend to file.

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