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ICANN set to open top-level domain floodgates


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After decades of operating with no more than 21 generic top-level domains, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is preparing to start registering up to a thousand top-level domains in a year, according to PCWorld. ICANN plans to post a new TLD application guidebook for hopefuls looking to join the ranks of .org, .net and .jobs as soon as November 9.

ICANN has spoken of adding TLDs to the Internet's repertoire since 1998, and has pushed a few through since then, including .info, .biz and .jobs. While a handful of the new ones have met success, resulting in over a million domain registrations, none have been able to match the runaway .com, which is associated with over half of the 196.3 million registered domain names.

Many entities have professed their desire to apply for TLDs of their very own, including .nyc, .berlin, and .unicef. Even registry operators for large TLDs like .org have expressed an interest in diversifying with variations of the ones they already own.

The ownership scale may go still smaller, to the company level. Canon has announced plans to get its own extension, and IBM may be contemplating its very own .ibm. But that is about where the plausibility of TLD ownership ends— just filing an application for a new TLD will run $185,000, which rules out those of us running websites from our home offices.

Of course, ICANN's dream of offering TLDs to every company has been some years in the making, and each time previous iterations of the guide have surfaced, they've left gaping policy questions unanswered. For instance, there were no rules regarding who could register which kinds of domains, such as whether a company could get a .paris address if the Parisian government owned the extension.

This issue seems to have fallen by the wayside, as there are multiple URL shortening services that use Libya's extension (bit.ly, 3.ly). The downside is those services are subject to the whims of Libya, as when the government removed vb.ly for associations with pornography.

Another problem pointed out in the last version of the guide was the issue of trademarks—for example, if Apple registered .apple, should someone else be allowed to register .aapl? Or once .apple is registered, should a hold be placed on all similar TLDs? ICANN has stated that it was addressing trademark concerns, among other things, in the imminent version of the guide, so it may have established a clear-cut way to manage this issue.

ICANN plans to release its guidebook for more public comments on Nov. 9, and to approve it at its next board meeting in Colombia in the first half of December. If all goes smoothly, they will begin accepting applications in May 2011 for new TLDs that would start functioning sometime in 2012. ICANN has said they will draw the line at 1,000 new TLDs per year.

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