International domain name regulator ICANN will next year introduce generic top-level domains (gTLD) beyond the familiar .com, .org and .net.
The decision followed a majority vote at ICANN’s board meeting in Singapore this afternoon, despite concerns raised by its Governmental Advisory Committee.
The board planned to accept ‘Round 1’ applications for new gTLDs from next January to April. There are currently 22 gTLDs, in addition to country-code, infrastructure and internationalised domains.
ICANN requires an application fee of US$185,000 ($174,000) for each new gTLD. After Round 1 of the new program, there could be “hundreds” of gTLDs, the regulator predicted (pdf).
According to Paul Szyndler, spokesman for Australian domain name regulator auDA, the decision facilitated greater choice for cashed-up brands, and opened doors to new online business models.
“Big brands with the resources may choose to promote their business in a different way. Also, it allows new business models to grow,” he said, highlighting opportunities in .food, or .sydney gTLDs.
Those new businesses would compete with auDA’s registry, AusRegistry, but Szyndler expected the demand for auDA’s .au domain to remain.
Additionally, there were mechanisms in place to block the registration of country-specific domains like .Australia, unless the applicant had Government approval, Szyndler noted.
“In this first round you won’t see a name like .Australia turn up. But that’s not to say that it won’t turn up in Round 2,” he told iTnews.
Beyond ICANN’s hefty registration fee, would-be gTLD operators also faced the costs of running a registry – which could involve “millions of dollars in infrastructure costs” year-on-year, Szyndler said.
Narelle Clark, vice-president of the Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU), said the fee could be prohibitively high for communities that could benefit from a gTLD, like those in the Pacific Islands.
While ISOC-AU welcomed the certainty that came with ICANN’s announcement, it was concerned that users may be confused by the emergence of new gTLDs and character formats.
Clark highlighted the potential for spoofing with characters like the Cyrillic ‘O’ strongly resembling its Latin counterpart.
“We think it’s really important that ICANN get behind any publicity campaigns behind [new gTLDs],” she told iTnews.
AusRegistry CEO Adrian Kinderis encouraged organisations and entrepreneurs to act now on the lengthy process, seek advice, and consider boutique name spaces as well as non-Latin scripts.
The registry today described itself as the “only company in Australia with the technology and expertise to deliver new top-level domains”.
“Digital brand management” provider Melbourne IT also set its sights on the new market via its 3,500 customers in financial, automotive, and other industries.
Speaking to iTnews from Singapore today, Melbourne IT CEO Theo Hnarakis described ICANN’s announcement as a “monumental decision for the industry”.
“Trust is a big issue on the internet today,” he said, highlighting issues of cybersquatting and malware-infested sites that capitalised on misspelled .com domains.
“Over the next decade, we are going to see a paradigm shift,” he said. “[But] I think there will be a place for .com as well; that will still be the default as it’s been around for 25 years.”
Hnarakis said new gTLD operators would require stable data centre infrastructure that had complete redundancy.
The cost of operating gTLDs would depend on traffic expectations and the number of second-level domain names that would exist, he said, forecasting costs to be between $50,000 and $250,000 per year.
ICANN board member Rita Rodin Johnston proposed the new gTLD scheme be ratified today, describing it as a reflection of the internet’s “constant state of creative chaos”.
“The board today will hopefully be executing on a plan the community first approved in 2005,” she said. “We’re ratifying community compromises and ideas, but we are not necessarily making everyone happy.”
“What’s interesting to me is we really have no idea of what will happen,” she said.
Only one ICANN board member, George Sadowsky, opposed the introduction of the new scheme today. Two abstained from voting, and 13 board members approved the scheme.