ICANN meeting The number of top-level internet domains is set to double over the next few years, after ICANN today approved the launch of a program that will let any company apply to run dot-anything.
During a meeting here at the Raffles City Convention Center in Singapore, ICANN's board of directors voted 13-1 with one abstention, to approve its new gTLD program, receiving a standing ovation.
In January next year, essentially any organisation will be able to submit an application to ICANN for a virtually any gTLD, using the rules set down in a 300-page Applicant Guidebook.
It will cost a bare minimum of $185,000 per application – many organisations are expected to commit over $1m to their bids – and only one string will be permitted per application.
Many large companies are expected to apply for so-called ".brand" extensions – Canon and Hitachi have announced plans for .canon and .hitachi, for example.
Others will apply for potentially mass-market terms such as .music, .web, blog, .porn and .sport. Some, such as .bank, will likely be restricted to very narrow groups of registrants.
There will also be applications for geographic gTLDs – city domains such as .london, .nyc, and .berlin, or cultural identifiers such as .scot and .irish.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the program will enable the creation of domain extensions in non-Latin character sets, such as Arabic, Chinese, Greek and Cyrillic.
While ICANN's decision was welcomed by almost everybody attending its 41st public meeting here in Singapore, the decision was still very controversial.
The resolution explicitly acknowledges that ICANN has overruled the wishes of national governments, represented by its Governmental Advisory Committee, for only the second time in its history.
The first time it did so, by approving the .xxx extension in March, it caused the US Department of Commerce to grant itself stricter oversight powers over ICANN, which it believes has started to act outside of the public interest.
The decision to approve the program today was also criticised by abstaining ICANN director Mike Silber, who said it was not ready yet and subject to "ego-drive deadlines".
This is believed to be a reference to the fact that ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush and director Rita Rodin Johnson – two of the program's biggest cheerleaders – both see their terms on the board come to an end this Friday.
The Applicant Guidebook approved today, in its seventh draft, is also still subject to amendment.
Notably, ICANN has disregarded calls for it to develop a policy for providing support to applicants from developing nations before approving the program.
Today, such applicants are at a disadvantage, because they do not yet know how much a new gTLD application will cost them.
The ICANN resolution passed today calls for $2m to be set aside in seed funding for what amounts to an aid program, providing discounts to applicants from needy countries.
But there are currently no rules about which countries or applicants will qualify for this aid.
A working group has been tasked with developing such a policy, hopefully in time for ICANN's next meeting in Dakar, Senegal, this October, but there are no guarantees it will be finished in time.
During a press conference today, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom admitted it was possible that the January application date could arrive before these aid rules are finalized.
But based on the working groups' preliminary reports, and the recommendations of the Governmental Advisory Committee, it seems likely that qualifying applicants will get a 76 per cent discount, to $44,000 per gTLD.
The current draft of the Applicant Guidebook is also going to be subject to immediate revisions following testy consultations between the ICANN board and the GAC this weekend.
These talks reached a low point yesterday when, during a stalemate in negotiations over trademark protection mechanisms, the European Commission GAC representative publicly described the debate as "a discussion between the deaf and the stupid".
It was not clear which party was supposed to be deaf, and which stupid.
Studies have estimated as many as 500 new gTLD applications will be submitted in the first round. It is expected to take at least nine months to approve the easiest applications.
Others could take two years or more, and cost far more than the $185,000 base fee, due to the various objections and auction mechanisms that have been approved.
Due to the fact that multiple applications will be made for the same strings, the number of gTLDs that make it live onto the internet is expected to be around the 200 to 300 mark. ®