Most people are aware of top-level domains, though they may not realize it. Suffixes like .com, .net, .biz and so forth are called generic top-level domains (gTLDs), and there are 21 of them at this point. Suffixes such as .uk are country-code TLDs, BTW.
In a press release, Dr. Paul Twomey, President and CEO of ICANN said:
"The Board today accepted a recommendation from its global stakeholders that it is possible to implement many new names to the Internet, paving the way for an expansion of domain name choice and opportunity. The potential here is huge. It represents a whole new way for people to express themselves on the Net. It's a massive increase in the 'real estate' of the Internet."
The approval means that companies could turn brands names into domains, while individuals could use their own names.
An implementation plan still needs approval, but following such approval ICANN could begin taking applications, perhaps in Q2 of 2009.
Don't expect John Smith to be applying, however. The cost of setting up such a domain name is expected to be in the low six-figures.
ICANN also posted a FAQ on the new process.
While many will cheer this move, I did hear the following complaint from an acquaintance: "Great. I used to be able to try .com, .net, .org if I wasn't sure of the domain name, and get a hit most of the time. Now I'll have an infinite number of choices."
Frequently asked questions on the process
1. Are you selling these new names?
ICANN is not "selling" new top level domain names. There will be a limited application period where any established entity from anywhere in the world can submit an application that will go through an evaluation process. It is anticipated that there will be additional rounds relatively soon after the close of the first application round.
2. What's to stop others registering my brand name?
Trademarks will not be automatically reserved. But there will be an objection-based mechanism for trademark owners where their arguments for protection will be considered.
3. How did this proposal get developed?
ICANN has a multi-stakeholder policy development process that served as the foundation for the process design. It involved consultation with domain name industry, trade mark attorneys, the business sector, users, governments and technicians.
4. How will offensive names be prevented?
Offensive names will be subject to an objection-based process based on public morality and order. This process will be conducted by an international arbitration body utilizing criteria drawing on provisions in a number of international treaties. ICANN will not be the decision maker on these objections.
5. When will all this happen?
ICANN is working towards accepting the first applications in the second quarter of 2009.
Besides this initiative, the following other resolutions were passed by ICANN:
- The adoption of two measures to eliminate "domain tasting" (the practice of using the add grace period to register domain names in bulk to test their profitability)
- The adoption of ICANN’s Operating Plan and Budget for fiscal year 2008-2009.
- Begin public input on a report on the "fast track" for Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) for country codes and have staff work with the community on how to implement IDNs.
- Implementation of measures to improve the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO), and a timeline for agreement on how different groups are represented on it.
- Selection of Mexico City as the site of ICANN’s first meeting in 2009.