The non-profit corporation that oversees the assignment of Internet names and addresses is poised to announce several new top-level domains to complement the popular .com and .net domains. The move is expected to prompt a frenzy of domain-name registrations by corporations seeking to protect their companies and product names from speculators.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been faced with the task of analysing the 191 top-level domains that interested parties have proposed in recent weeks. The proposals range from open, general-purpose domains such as .web and .site to restricted, specialised domains such as .museum and .kids.
ICANN's board of directors is expected to choose several new top-level domains at a meeting in Los Angeles this week. If ICANN's negotiations go as planned, companies could buy names under the new top-level domains early next year.
Early last month, ICANN received 44 valid proposals from companies and consortia seeking to become registries of new top-level domains. Each proposal was accompanied by a $50,000 application fee.
ICANN's staff is reviewing the technical, business and financial strength of the proposals. Among the organisations submitting proposals are domain name registrars, trade associations, venture-funded startups and leading network companies including Novell and Nokia.
Two high-tech heavyweights ang-ling to get a piece of the domain-name business are NeuStar and SRI International. A spin-off of Lockheed Martin, NeuStar manages telephone number assignments in North America and is involved in proposals for .biz, .web, .per, .geo, .travel and .kids. SRI International has proposed .geo and, through its Sarnoff subsidiary, .i.
VeriSign, which operates the registry for .com, .net and .org, is urging ICANN to maintain the stability of the Internet's domain-name system while attracting new users with its choice of domains. VeriSign is involved in proposals for .biz, .home, .info, .site and .web.
"We think ICANN should move forward quickly with a few top-level domains," says Roger Cochetti, senior vice president and chief policy officer at VeriSign. "We don't have a specific number in mind, but obviously 200 new top-level domains would create instability."
ICANN observers expect somewhere between four to 12 new top-level domains to be chosen. Leading contenders for generic domains are .biz and .web. Most observers also expect ICANN to select a new top-level domain for personal Web spaces such as .i or .per.
Segregating Web content for children and adults has a lot of support, with top-level domains such as .kids and .xxx being proposed by multiple companies. Many ICANN participants also favour creating some non-commercial domains such as .museum and .health.
For IT managers, the biggest impact will be the creation of a new generic domain such as .biz that would compete directly against .com. If that happens, companies are expected to immediately purchase blocks of names in that domain to protect their trademarks.
"The first wave you'll see will be people re-registering names they have in .com, .net and .org," predicts Elliot Noss, president and CEO of Tucows, a Canadian registrar involved in proposals for .dir, .info., .site, .web, .tel and .kids. But Noss says the new top-level domains will be most beneficial to businesses whose preferred domain names are already owned by someone else in .com or .net.
"We're seeing an increasing number of businesses registering not just their companies' name, but their product lines, as well as subjects related to their products and specific promotions," Noss says. "It's those kinds of peripheral business activities that will most benefit from the expansion of the name space."
The registration activity is expected to be less frenetic for specialised domains because only the companies in those market segments will want to buy names.
Prices for names in the new top-level domains are expected to be slightly higher than current prices for .com, which wholesale for $US6 and retail for $35 or less per year. Industry observers expect companies to spend from $50 to $100 per year for each name.
"For a company that wants to register all the permutations of its names in a .web domain, you're maybe looking at an investment of $10,000 or $15,000, to get one hundred new names to build an umbrella around your corporate and brand names," predicts ICANN watcher Bret Fausett, a partner with US-based Hancock, Rothert and Bundshoft.
Altogether, more than 30 million domain names have been registered, according to VeriSign. Of those, 24.2 million are in the .com, .net and .org domains. Another seven to eight million names have been registered in the 356 available country code domains.