Domain-name developments spur excitement and concern

Professionals in the business, PR, and cyber worlds are buzzing over a plan by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to increase Web address endings to a nearly infinite number.

Professionals in the business, PR, and cyber worlds are buzzing over a plan by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to increase Web address endings to a nearly infinite number by offering the chance for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs).

"Interesting from a marketing perspective" is how Sabrina Guttman, Ruder Finn's global head of technology and innovation, summed up the plan to PRWeek.

What ICANN's proposal means is that Ford, for example, could have a gTLD of the word .ford and would have rights to and responsibility for the registry and associated costs as the keeper of the .ford domain. Mustang.ford could direct customers to information about the Ford Mustang, or frappuccino.starbucks could send patrons to that product line.

Acquiring gTLDs

1. Watch a video about the new gTLD and read the applicant guidebook, both found on ICANN.org

2. Apply between January 12 and April 12 of next year by logging on to monitoricann.org. Pay a $5,000 deposit per requested application slot, which will be credited against the evaluation fee of $185,000. Other fees may apply as the process continues

3. After the application period ends, ICANN will verify the applications, then release on its website the list of strings, applicant names, and other application data

4. The evaluation stage might last between eight and 18 months

5. Entities can apply for as many gTLDs as they like

Varying reactions
"We've received a lot of inquiries," says Brad White, ICANN's director of global media affairs, since the plan was announced in June. The consumer electronics company Canon and the Scottish government have already staked their claims in the press on the names .canon and .scot, respectively, even though they can't apply until next year.

Critics of ICANN's plan have voiced a number of concerns, including questioning the need for the new gTLDs, the substantial costs associated with getting a new domain, and the possibility of security breaches.

"Companies will have to incur a large expense in order to protect their brands and trademarks," says Guttman.

The expense is substantial. To apply, organizations must first pay $185,000 to ICANN. Other fees might also apply, according to ICANN, and there will be startup costs associated with running a registry of domain names.

Coca-Cola has already gone on record expressing concerns over the need to spend time, money, and resources defending its brand name from fraud and abuse. It suggested that the initial round of domain names be restricted to more generic terms such as .automobile or .restaurant.

The way the ICANN system works now, for example, allows a third party other than Toyota to make a claim for the Toyota domain. "They could apply, but Toyota can protest this," says White. He advises companies to track who has applied to use their name. Program guidelines state that applicants need to show they have a legitimate claim to the name they are buying.

Jonathan Kopp, partner and global director of Ketchum Digital, agrees with Guttman that the proposed plan creates potential creative opportunities, but is generally against adding new gTLDs. Among his objections are that the new domains could be confusing to the public, they're unnecessary because virtually everyone clicks on links and videos, rather than typing in Internet addresses, and buying a domain name adds another big cost for those who must opt in to safeguard their interests, even though they may have viable dot-com or dot-gov names.

White offers the argument that new domains will add clarity. "If you click on something like NYC, you know you'll get New York City," he says. "It is a more intuitive form of searching."

Security concerns
However, both Kopp and Guttman agree that a possible security breach under the proposed system is a vital issue to consider.

"Right now, there's enough phishing, spam, and malware directing people to false links," Kopp says. "At least there's some level of predictability. We already know it's going to a dot-com or a dot-net. We only have to worry about the legitimacy of the characters that precede the dot."

White contends that ICANN has implemented security- protecting measures such as "an abuse point of contact, cooperation with law enforcement, and centralized zone file access coming up with an improvement on the current system" after years of drafts and reviews.

See Jeff Ernst's Op-ed for further perspective on gTLDs.

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