Beyond dotcom: ICANN unveils new domain name system

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has started accepting applications for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD), which is expected to expand the current number of 22 top-level domains such as .gov and .com to include almost any word or name. The new system involves the participation of the global Internet community, including governments.

In a keynote speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in the US, attended by representatives of major governments and IT companies, ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom said the new program is a significant step in the development of the Internet as it will provide more choice and ensure that there is more competition in the domain name market space.

The new gTLD, for one, will allow non-Latin language scripts, such as Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic. The new program also has more IP protection than previous gTLD programs and better care in handling law enforcements issues and privacy issues, as well as sovereign and civil liberties and thus involves the participation of more governments.

"The Internet as we know was initially developed in the US. The Internet was 100 percent American and it is becoming 100 percent global," Beckstrom said. "Globalization is only one aspect of the program but it is a critical aspect."

Initially, TLDs such as .gov and .mil were limited only to the US, but eventually ICANN opened it to other registries to include domain names such as .com, .net, .org, and .edu. Other top-level domain names were also introduced later such as .int, .biz, .info, and .info, among others.

Currently, organizations and individuals around the world can register second-level and, in some cases, third-level domain names. In a URL such as, "google" is a second-level name and "maps" is a third-level domain. There is also country code top-level domain (ccTLD), which is generally used or reserved for a country, a sovereign state, or a dependent territory.

The new naming system, however, will open up the Internet more and allow entrepreneurs, businesses, governments and communities around the world to operate a Top-Level Domain registry of their own choosing.

"The increase in number of gTLDs into the root is not expected to affect the way the Internet operates, but it will, for example, potentially change the way people find information on the Internet or how businesses plan and structure their online presence," ICANN said.
ICANN's board of directors approved the new domain naming system last June in a public meeting in Singapore, after six years of careful study.

"This policy being implemented was developed by the Generic Name Supporting Organizations (GNSO) in 2005, approved in 2008 in Paris, France, and approved by the ICANN board for implementation in June 2011 in Singapore. The reason why it has taken us so long to introduce this is the time and attention devoted to IP issues,  government issues, geographic naming issues,  which are all very complex and difficult because it involves treaties and different bodies of laws," Beckstrom explained.

"There are IP experts in the board, as well as experts community who are deeply involved in the project," he added.

During the 60-day application period for new gTLDs from January 12 to April 12, Bechstrom said ICANN will be taking pains to do criminal background checks on officers of applying organizations, publishing the list of names applied for around the world and accepting public comments and opening a special window for governmental advisory committees.

Any established public or private organization that meets eligibility requirements anywhere in the world can apply to create and operate a new gTLD Registry. However, applicants will need to demonstrate the operational, technical and financial capability to run a registry and comply with additional specific requirements.

ICANN has also awareness-raising events for the new gTLD program in such diverse places as Fiji, India, Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal, and many others, and has set aside USD$2 million to assist needy applicants, a seed fund to which other organizations can donate to.