A proposal that could add hundreds of new Internet domain names to the network beginning as early as next year has industry insiders concerned about confused users, squabbling businesses and security.
After years of study, a guidebook for registries that want to acquire new generic top-level domains is in its fourth draft. Generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, are typically the three letters at the end of Internet addresses, such as.com, .net and .org.
Those who follow the addressing issue say the new domain rules likely will be approved next year or early in 2012.
The proposal has created a brouhaha in Internet circles, with some arguing the market should decide what addresses are acceptable, and others worried the expansion could increase cyber crime.
"It (the expansion) looks like it's on the horizon," said Brad White, a spokesman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the non-profit based in Marina del Rey, Calif., charged with coordinating the worldwide addressing system. The group is considering expanding generic top-level domains beyond the 21 it now allows, arguing there is no reason to artificially set limits.
Some examples include addresses that end in .eco, for use by environmentalists, .food for foodies, or .sports for sports enthusiasts.
The expansion also could allow business names, such as .ford, and place identifiers, such as .nyc or .paris.
At least one proposed domain name is already controversial: .xxx, which would create a sort of red-light district on the Internet.
Those in favor of the changes say opening up the system would allow like-minded groups to find each other more easily and would help companies improve their online identities. ICANN is also considering adding more characters to international domains, now restricted to Latin characters. It aims to add characters in the Arabic, Japanese, Cyrillic and Chinese alphabets that would add significantly to the 1.5 billion estimated Internet users.
The ICANN board is expected to take up domain-name expansion at a meeting in December in Cartagena, Spain, where board members may decide to begin processing new registry applications or say they need more time.
"The technology is there" to go beyond 21 top-level domains, White said.
Still, some that worry opening up Internet addresses will lead to criminals duping consumers.
The International Trademark Association says the plan will lead to higher levels of trademark and intellectual-property abuse.
Others say there will be disputes over the addresses.
Few people know much about ICANN, formed in 1998 by the U.S. government to coordinate the Internet-addressing system. The plan was to grow ICANN under the U.S. Department of Commerce. Eventually, the government would pull out.
Last year, the Commerce Department transferred the group to a multi-stakeholder, private-sector-led model.
Besides generic top-level domains, ICANN also controls country code top-level domains, such as .us for the United States and .eu for the European Union. Generally reserved for the countries, the domains can be used for other purposes.
For instance, Scottsdale-based Go Daddy, a domain-name registrar, recently began marketing .co, a country code introduced during the summer for Colombia.
A domain-name registry is the wholesaler in the process. It applies for top-level domains. For example, VeriSign Inc. is the registry for.com and .net.
ICANN makes 18 to 20 cents annually for each registration name, additions, transfers and renewals. The revenue covers its administrative functions.
The group estimates it will cost a registry as much as $185,000 in application and legal fees to start a new top-level domain.
The registrar in the addressing process is akin to a retailer. Those looking to buy a.com or .net address deal with a registrar such as Go Daddy.
The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry association combating identify theft and fraud from phishing and e-mail spoofing, said a larger number of top-level domain names would allow more opportunities for organized crime to gain a foothold in registries.
They point to a registrar that was convicted in 2008 of cyber crime, including credit-card and document fraud. Officials said the registrar was a haven for cyber criminals who wanted to register websites that supported a range of criminal activity.
"Some members of our community assert that anyone running such a TLD should come under particularly heavy scrutiny and perhaps even regulation or audit to ensure the TLD is run meticulously," the group wrote in a draft report on the issue.
The trademark association argues that the proposal does not protect businesses from cyber squatters, entities that register and traffic Internet domain names with the intent to benefit from another's trademark by confusing consumers.
Experts say it's fairly easy to determine who should get, for example, .ford. Ford Motor Co. could make strong arguments that it owns the copyright and that the creation of the domain is an intellectual-property issue.
But what about a domain such as .delta? Should it go to the airline or the water-faucet manufacturer?
The process for deciding is complex, White said.
"Is it going to make everybody happy? Probably not," he said. "It's the closest we can come because nobody has ever done this before."
Warren Adelman, Go Daddy president and chief operating officer, said he was unsure how consumers would react to so many name combinations.
Go Daddy has had some success with some newer top-level domains, including .co and .me. For instance, the address used for the movie "Despicable Me" was despicable.me.
"Today in the world there are just about 198 million top-level domain names, " Adelman said. "If you look at a world population of 7 billion, it's still a pretty small number."
MORE ON THIS TOPIC
Generic top level domains
• .aero, (air-transport industry) sponsored by Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques.
• .arpa, (Reserved exclusively to support operationally critical infrastructural identifier spaces as advised by the Internet Architecture Board) sponsored by Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.
• .asia, (From Asia, for Asia) sponsored by DotAsia Organisation.
• .biz, (businesses), operated by NeuStar Inc.
• .cat, (Catalan linguistic and cultural community) sponsored by Fundació puntCat.
• .com, (unrestricted but intended for commercial registrants) operated by VeriSign Inc.
• .coop, (cooperatives) sponsored by Dot Cooperation LLC.
• .edu, (U.S. educational institutions) sponsored by EDUCAUSE.
• .gov, (U.S. government) sponsored by the U.S. General Services Administration.
• .info, (unrestricted use) operated by Afilias Limited.
• .int, (Organizations established by international treaties between governments) sponsored by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.
• .jobs, (reserved for the human-resource-management community) sponsored by Employ Media LLC.
• .mil, (U.S. military) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense Network Information Center.
• .mobi, (reserved for mobile providers and users ) sponsored by mTLD Top Level Domain Ltd.
• .museu, (museums) sponsored by the Museum Domain Management Association International.
• .name, (for registration by individuals), operated by VeriSign Information Services Inc.
• .net, (unrestricted but intended for network providers) operated by VeriSign Inc.
• .org, (unrestricted but intended for organizations that do not fit elsewhere) sponsored by Public Interest Registry.
• .pro, (professionals) sponsored by Registry Services Corp.
• .tel, (reserved for individuals and businesses to store and manage their contact information in the domain-name system) sponsored by Telnic Ltd.
• .travel, (travel and tourism community) sponsored by Tralliance Registry Management Co LLC.
by John Yantis The Arizona Republic Sept. 26, 2010 12:00 AM
New rules may grow names for Internet domains
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