ICANN Looking at More Domain Name Extensions

SYDNEY — The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers said it expects an expansion of Web domain names in the next year during its conference this week in Sydney, Australia.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports an expansion beyond the present 21 top-level domains — including the commonly used .com, .org and .net — is planned by ICANN.

“We’re all familiar with the .coms, the .orgs, the .infos — that’s what they call a ‘top-level domain’ in a domain name,” said Paul Levins, vice president of corporate affairs at ICANN. “We’re going to expand that space so that [users] can have an almost limitless supply or suggestion of expressions.”

Levins said if ICANN’s proposal is green-lit, changes will be implemented by April 2010.

“The premier of New South Wales was talking about the potential for a .Sydney address. The mayor of Paris has talked about a .Paris,” Levins said. “But then there’s generic, other generic names for example, that are non-geographic: .eco, supported by Al Gore; .food, supported by the famous American chef Wolfgang Puck. So there's a lot of interest in the expansion of that name space.”

Not all are cheering the move. Some IT experts say such an expansion is loaded with pitfalls and problems, ranging from trademark issues to potential domain name confusion.

“Traditionally there has been a very well-defined structure. The structure has led to some kind of order,” said Associate Professor Bjorn Landfeldt, an information technology expert at the University of Sydney.

But that structure also has been restrictive, the professor noted.

“A classic example is a case in the U.S. with Nissan v. Nissan, when Nissan Motor Corp. basically stole the Nissan.com address from a small company in the U.S. — [it] was a well-publicized, quite nasty affair.”

Peter Coroneus, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, believes the expansion would not necessarily cut down on trademark and intellectual property disputes.

“One of the issues that is going to need to be confronted here in the implementation of a dramatic expansion of domain names is how in fact you would handle the intellectual property issues,” Coroneus told the ABC. “In other words, who will have the stronger claim to a preexisting name: Is it the person who gets in there first and registers it, or is it the person who has a registered trademark in a number of jurisdictions?”

ICANN’s Levins said its application process will employ “various checks and balances” to evaluate the merits of claims to a domain name.

Meanwhile, Australian IT notes that some of the largest companies and brands worldwide could face costs incurred by new ICANN rules regarding new gTLDs, working in favor of firms that sell domains and increasing operational costs.

ICANN’s proposals include adjusting rules that prevent registrars from simultaneously operating backend services, by which they could pressure gTLD domain owners to use their registry operation.

Adam Palmer, legal counsel for the Public Interest Registry, told Australian IT that such changes represent a "back-to-the-future” proposal.

“What this really comes down to is they’re proposing to turn the clock back 10 years to the bad old days when we had a single registry-registrar controlled entity, Network Solutions, which could have inflated prices, total market control over a single channel, total control over all information related to that domain,” Palmer said. “We spent the last 10 years trying to build up and develop competition in the domain registry industry registrar market that exists. We’ve broken the monopoly that existed, and now ICANN is proposing to turn the clock back to a potentiality of a few dominant monopolies that will control the shelf space for the gTLDs that they operate.”

For more information on the Public Interest Registry, visit RegistryRegistrarSeparation.org

For more about ICANN, see the AVN.com news archives.