ICANN proposes new way to buy top-level domains

ICANN proposes a new way of granting top-level domain requests.

ICANN is seeking comments on a proposal that would open up the market for generic top-level domains (TLDs) on the Internet, basically allowing anyone with US$185,000 to buy a new TLD.

The plan from Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers would allow third parties to object to proposed TLDs on several grounds, but the proposal is an attempt to open up a TLD process that has been cumbersome in the past. ICANN would charge groups $185,000 to apply for a generic TLD, with most of the money going toward evaluation of the application.

Several governments, including the US government, have been asking for a more streamlined TLD-granting process for nearly a decade, said Paul Levins, ICANN's executive officer and vice president for corporate affairs. ICANN is the organization that oversees the Web's top-level domain naming system.

Right now, there are only 21 generic or sponsored TLDs, including .com, .org, .biz and .info, and those TLDs all use English characters. The ICANN proposal would open up generic TLDs to non-English characters such as Chinese, Levins said.

During the long debate over a streamlined TLD-granting process, there's been some concern about whether groups would try to buy offensive TLDs. The ICANN proposal would allow third parties to object to proposed TLDs that are racist, sexist or otherwise offensive, Levins said. Organizations independent of ICANN would resolve disputes and auctions would resolve disputes in which more than one organization wanted a TLD.

The cost of a generic TLD and the responsibility of running a domain-name registry should also prevent the registration of some offensive domains, Levins said. "This is no $6 exercise," he added. "You'll have to pay a significant amount of money."

ICANN has based the cost of a generic TLD on what it believes will be the cost to evaluate applications and protect the organization against risk, Levins said. Any excess money would be redistributed based on the wishes of the Internet community, he said.

ICANN's old method of approving TLDs came under fire in 2006 and 2007, when the ICANN board twice rejected an application for a .xxx TLD for adult-oriented content. A Florida startup first proposed a .xxx domain for sexually oriented content, but the proposal generated objections from some religious groups and even some pornography Web sites, which said the .xxx domain would segregate adult content and lead to governmental regulation. The ICANN board eventually dropped the controversial proposal.

ICANN put its new TLD proposal up for comment late last week. As of late Tuesday, there were only a couple of comments.

Amadeu Abril i Abril, a Spanish lawyer specializing in IT law, generally praised the proposal, although he said ICANN will have to ensure that small registrars and TLDs are recognized by larger registrars. The proposal will help open up the domain-name registration industry to new companies that don't have long-term contracts with ICANN, he wrote.

The proposal "does promote competition as no other measure, it prevents discrimination and it is critically important in a market where actors, both registries and registrars, are 'artificially' created contractual parties with privileged access to the source (domains) by virtue of, precisely, their contractual roles," Abril wrote.

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