The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is about to expand general Top Level Domaown names (gTLDs). During the first round, ICANN will accept only 500 applications, while the subsequent rounds will be limited to 400 applications. The gTLDs expansion programme has the potential to add countless new names to the existing twenty one available top-level domains (.com, .net, .edu, .biz, .org) and over 100 suffices permitting brands, businesses, geographical regions and even individuals to apply for a virtually unlimited list of new gTLDs in different scripts including Arabic. It is expected that the first gTLDs will come online by 2013. Businesses and governments are analyzing the impact of proposed expansion of gTLDs on the internet with caution and concern. The focus for many brand owners has been to argue against the expansion of the name space, or at least to postpone it till the internet really needs such a change and till a more efficient brand right protection system is in place. But ICANN is going ahead with the program. A global awareness campaign to educate the world about the expected changes in the in the cyber space is in the air and will be launched anytime.
The decisions will vary from industry to industry and business to business but one thing is for sure; new gTLDs are not for everyone. The option is costly; $185,000 initial application fee plus $25,000 a year to run the registry. If someone else wants the same domain, bidding will determine the winner. And another fee will crop up when a registry is setting up secondary domains on a top-level domain. One wonders what might be the rationale for the proposed fee structure by ICANN – a nonprofit entity. The price tag alone leaves small and medium sized businesses out of the big name games.
Owning a “.sports” TLD for anyone in the industry manufacturing sports goods sounds like a good idea provided the business can afford outbidding other sports goods manufacturers and the fee. The opening up of new gTLDs is certain to set off a wave of new activities on the internet domain space that could fundamentally change existing practices related to domain name use and search engine optimization; and more broadly impact internet based advertising, promotion and ecommerce. Unless it happens, no one can say how? Big businesses have already started research to judge the impact to their businesses of this impending change, and are reviewing the recently revised and published ICANN draft guidebook closely for insights. Some companies (like Canon) have already announced that they will apply for custom suffixes (.canon). Biggest advantage to ask for a new gTLD is to have a key generic term in any industry. The new internet domain space may open the potential for new ideas to improve an online presence in the marketplace. It can also open new opportunities for communities, cities and regions who would like to have more powerful presence on the internet. But who really needs a new gTLD? Analysts say that proposed gTLDs expansion will solve problems that do not exist. The current dot-com structure works fine as it is. The expansion of the gTLDs will only challenge existing online branding and brand protection and marketing strategies at all levels adding more noise. The businesses will feel forced to spend huge sums in fees to ICANN and legal firms in order to reserve names to protect their trademarks from cyber squatters who could use them for spam and criminal activities. The only winner in this program seems ICANN that will reap millions in fees for domain names that are not needed in the first place and the United States that intends to retain control on the Web’s critical.
The writer is Deputy Controller of Examinations at Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at [email protected]