Top Level Domain Names: New Internet Gang Rumbling Into Town
February 24, 2012
(Long Island, N.Y.) The latest twist in the evolution of the Internet and the Web has many critics buzzing about the possible consequences for trademark owners and ordinary Web users. Yielding at last to widespread demands from a multitude of industry and other groups, the Internet’s primary governing body has been accepting applications for hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs) meant for generic use across the globe. Hundreds of country-specific TLDs already exist, but they typically are restricted to citizens of those countries.
In the vast, confusing numerical realms of the Internet, human-readable domain names serve as clear guideposts. Instead of mysterious numbers like 220.127.116.11, the domain name system (DNS) permits websites and email addresses to use simple text strings such as funnybirthdaycookies.com and email@example.com. The Web as it exists today would be impossible with domain names.
For many years, generic TLDs were few in number. Even now, most working domain names remain confined to the major players .com, .net and .org. The TLDs .gov and .edu are reserved exclusively for governmental entities and accredited educational institutions in the United States, and the U.S. military has sole custody of .mil.
The great expansion of commercial activity on the Internet over the past decade and the explosive growth of small, private sites with dedicated Web names have placed a severe strain on the availability of reasonably useful and comprehensible choices for new domain names. Under increasing pressure to expand the number of general-purpose TLDs suitable for businesses, individuals and non-profit organizations, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAAN) responded in 2000 by approving additional TLDs. The two TLDs .info and .biz have met with significant success, but .coop, .pro and .name have seen only limited use by cooperatives, professionals and individuals.
U.S.-based entrepreneurs seeking new website names have to a limited extent adopted .us, the national TLD for the United States. The tiny island nation of Tuvalu has turned its national TLD into a global commodity, but the .tv TLD has limited appeal and is more costly. The nation of Montenegro, newly formed in 2006, has capitalized quickly on the potential of its national .me TLD for personal domain names in English-speaking nations.
A few years after the initial expansion, ICAAN decided to approve a few more TLDs. The specialized niche of Internet communications services has accepted .tel, and .mobi quickly received a warm reception from a wireless-crazy world. Additionally, the travel industry has been fairly happy with the slightly unwieldy .travel. Heavy lobbying by anti-pornography groups brought about approval of the .xxx TLD in 2011, but this only whetted the appetites of advocates for expansion.
Brand-new TLDs such as .sports, .beer, .food, .coke and .gold are likely to début later this year. In spite of a lengthy, expensive process costing at least $185,000, a flood of applications from corporations, governments and other interests promises chaos and confusion. Many businesses are worried that their treasured trademarks will be filched by speculators, and government officials in authoritarian countries are concerned about the potential for embarrassment from what they see as unauthorized use of politically sensitive names.
However, the ability to construct TLDs from a greatly expanded menu of national characters pleases governments that have long complained that the domain system unfairly favors English-language countries. It will be possible for Chinese nationals to have domain names composed entirely of written characters from their own language, for example. Other notable character sets include Cyrillic and Arabic.
ICAAN officials have said that all current applications must be submitted by April 12, 2012, and that no further applications will be considered for at least two to three years.