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Debate swirls around ICANN plan to fast-track new top-level domains

ICANN plan to add hundreds of new domain name extensions hits critical juncture

By , Network World
January 15, 2010 10:12 AM ET

Network World - A controversial plan to introduce hundreds of new top-level domains into the Internet has reached a crossroads: The plan will either be accelerated or delayed based on public comments due at the end of January.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is seeking feedback on a proposal to create a pre-registration process for organizations that want to apply for new domain name extensions, such as .jazz, .sport and .food.

If approved, the proposal would require applicants to submit a document indicating their intention to bid on new top-level domains along with a deposit of $55,000 prior to submitting their complete applications. The pre-registration process could launch as early as June 2010.

The pre-registration process is "a game changer for considering new top-level domains because it significantly accelerates the timetable for a business to make a decision," says Roland LaPlante, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Afilias, which operates the .info and .org domains. "It doesn't require a full application. It doesn't require you to think out your internal business plan. But it does require a go/no-go decision."

VeriSign CTO Ken Silva says that few CIOs at U.S. companies are aware of ICANN's new top-level domain plan or the potential for it to be accelerated through the proposed pre-registration process.

"It doesn't appear that it's really on a lot of radar screens," Silva says. "Where it is a concern is that it's possible someone may try to register a domain that infringes on their territory."

The Internet currently supports 280 top-level domains, including .com, which is the most popular, and country codes such as .de for Germany and .cn for china.

ICANN has been talking about dramatically increasing the number of top-level domains since 2007. But it was in October 2009 that potential bidders came up with the idea of an immediate pre-registration process for domain name applications.

The pre-registration process – dubbed "Expressions of Interest'' or EOI for short -- is designed to give the ICANN community a realistic estimate of the number of top-level domain applications to expect, along with a list of who plans to apply for which domain name extensions.

"The [pre-registration] process has been proposed as a way for ICANN to get a real indication from real potential bidders about their actual intent," LaPlante says. "There's some debate about how much money should be required up front, how much information will be required, and whether the information will be revealed to the public."

Comments on the "Expressions of Interest" proposal are due to ICANN by Jan. 27.

So far, ICANN has received 40-plus comments, which are split evenly between those in favor and opposed to the pre-registration process.

Proponents of the pre-registration process include organizations planning to bid on the new domain name extensions.

The opposition includes trademark attorneys and U.S. corporations including H.J. Heinz and Lockheed Martin, who say the pre-registration process is premature because the application process is not finalized.

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