Lots of hoops to jump through for new generic top-level domains

Applications for the registration of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) open in four months’ time on 12 January, and this week’s Westminster eForum on the future of the internet provided an interesting and surprising insight into that process.

The gTLDs programme finally approved by ICANN in June will see the introduction of tailored domain name suffixes for organisations, which means that instead of using a traditional domain name extension  like .com or .net, businesses will be able to use their own brand name.

There will a 90-day window for applications, but it is unlikely to be the free-for-all that some have predicted. ICANN has developed a strict applications procedure to remain tight control.

The first interesting fact to emerge at the eForum was that gTLDs are all about giving more choice to businesses, groups, organisations and communities. It is not about individuals. Applications are open to entities only. So while .london will be available to London as a capital city, .tom, .dick and .harry will not be available to first Thomas, Richard and Henry who can afford it that comes along.

The cost will be a significant factor in limiting the number of successful applications for the new gTLDs. Not only is the cost of applying set at around £116,000 plus a registration fee of £16,000, but annual running cost of domain is estimated at something like £300,000. Not an inexpensive business.

It may be a while before it emerges exactly what gTLDs have been registered, because although the application process closes on 12 April 2012, the approval process will take around nine months, according to ICANN’s Olof Nordling, director of services relations and Brussels office manager.

The process will be longer, however, where more than one application is made for a single gTLD, or  or where objections are raised to applications. For all of this, ICANN has defined specific dispute resolutions processes.

Such processes will have to be invoked should, for example, Volkswagen, Rowntree’s and Ralph Lauren all applied for the .polo gTLD.

Objections to applications can be raised where a gTLD is too similar to an existing brand name or trademark, where it infringes on the rights of brand owner, where it is deemed by governments not to be in the public interest, or where communities object.

Specialists in the field, say it is unlikely that every brand will be interested in maintaining a domain, even if they are able to afford it.

Nordling advises, however, that all businesses should monitor the programme to understand the potential impact on their brand, and says all governments should be plan for the change and be proactive. Good advice. Failure to do so could mean that by the time businesses realise that there could be negative consequences, it may be too late.