New top-level domains expected in 2009

New Internet top-level domains available to far more applicants may be approved by the third quarter of next year and cost as little as US$100,000 to register, ICANN executives said Thursday after the ending of a landmark meeting of the Internet governance group.

At the meeting in Paris, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on Thursday agreed to start crafting rules for a new method of creating generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Unlike existing gTLDs, such as .biz and .mobi, which came from a limited set of applicant entities and went through a long process to be approved by ICANN, the new ones could come from anyone who has the capacity to run an Internet registry. Also, approval will be automatic unless there are objections from someone else.

"This is a decision to fully liberate the TLD space," said ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey. He spoke at a press conference in Paris, monitored via conference call, along with Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush.

Once the gTLDs were cleared through the process, their owners could start selling domains that go with them, just as registrars now sell domain names that end in .com, .org or .biz. But ICANN has to work out how much to charge for the gTLDs, how objections would be resolved, and other issues.

After working out the details of the system, ICANN expects to start receiving applications for gTLDs in April or May of next year, and ones that aren't controversial could probably be approved in 90 to 120 days, Twomey said. If that timeline held, the domains could go on sale by the fourth quarter, he said.

The price of a new gTLD is expected to be initially "in the low six digits" in U.S. dollars, with some ongoing fees after that, Twomey said. The idea is to recoup the cost of developing the new system, which ICANN estimates at between $10 million and $20 million by the time it is ready to roll. After the first generation of such names is set up, the cost might go down if those costs have already been covered, they said. ICANN expects most of the proposed gTLDs to come from large entities rather than individuals.

A proposed name could face objections of four basic kinds, the executives said:

- it violates someone else's existing rights, namely a trademark;

- it's confusingly similar to an existing TLD;

- it purports to represent a economic or cultural community, but the community doesn't believe that it does; or

- it's contrary to morality or public order.

Such disputes would probably be resolved through third-party arbitration, the ICANN executives said. Who would pay for that arbitration has not yet been resolved.

Also on Thursday, the organization agreed to start working out how to assign IDNs (Internationalized Domain Names) that would go under existing TLDs. This opens the door to domain names in non-Roman character sets such as Cyrillic and Chinese characters. For example, a Chinese company could register a domain name consisting of its name in Chinese characters, followed by .cn, the country code for China.

Though this is called a "fast-track" process, those names would probably start appearing on the Internet around the same time as the new gTLDs because the two programs have been designed to go forward together. This is because ICANN expects new gTLDs to appear in non-Roman characters as well, and there are technical issues with making both possible.

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