After more than six years of debate and negotiation, the group that manages the domain name system will finally launch its program Wednesday evening to dramatically expand the number of new names available on the Web, but it could take up to a year or longer before the new dot-something actually becomes available.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers formally opens up the application process Wednesday at 7:01 pm Eastern time (12:01 am GMT) for those seeking to operate a new top-level domain, the name to the far right of the dot. The application period will remain open until April 12. The process could result in the introduction of hundreds or even thousands of new names to compete with the 22 existing generic top-level domains such as .com, .net and .org.
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said Tuesday that the group still does not know how many applications it will get but has planned for about 500.
"Our goal is not to create any number of applications," Beckstrom said during a speech Tuesday in Washington. "Our goal is to serve the global public interest and to administer this program fairly and professionally for the benefit of global Internet users, while ensuring the security and stability of the global Internet."
Companies that want to try to operate their own domain name must first submit a lengthy application and a $185,000 fee. The evaluation process includes several stages beginning with a criminal background check of the proposed applicant's top officers and an examination of each applicant's business history.
ICANN also will examine whether the proposed domain name violates an existing trademark or sparks other concerns. If an application clears these hurdles, ICANN will then look at whether the group seeking to operate the domain name has the "technical, operational, and financial capability to operate a registry." ICANN has proposed a bidding process for those entities that are seeking the same name after initially urging the parties to try to resolve the dispute on their own.
The application process could take as little as nine months and up to two years, ICANN said. ICANN will release the list of applicants after the first round closes and allow for public comment on each proposed domain.
In the meantime, many companies and groups may try to keep their applications secret to keep others from seeking the same name while the application process remains open. Despite this, some companies already have announced plans to seek particular names such as the photography firm Canon, which said it would apply to operate .canon.
The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse estimates ICANN could get as many as 1,000 applications and that at least two-thirds of them will come from companies that are defensively registering names for strategic and competitive reasons, the group's president, Josh Bourne said.This is one the reasons why the group, along with many major companies and other trademark owners, have voiced concern about the expansion. Some critics want ICANN to delay the program's rollout and include additional protections for trademark owners.
ICANN has said it may make additional changes to the application guidelines but has not committed to any immediate major modifications. Still, Bourne said his group will continue to press forchanges including allowing trademark owners to pay a fee to the operator of each new domain name to block the registration of their trademarks by others in perpetuity.