New rules unleash registry boom

The Australian
Andrew Colley
Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

THE world's peak internet regulation authority has created a boom for the registry business by establishing an unlimited number of generic top-level domains, but it has also created a regulatory quagmire. Last week the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced it would allow individuals and companies to apply for rights to generic top-level domains, (gTLDs). Where once a company could apply for a name ending in .com, .net or (the latter for a name in Australia) now just about any name can be placed after the dot, opening the way for domains such as .holden, .ford or .speedo.

ICANN has released names such as .asia and .travel previously but it has never opened the field to this extent. It means internet users may have to get used to typing .google, .microsoft or .ebay if they want to visit those websites in the near future. ICANN will also make non-Roman-character domain names available for the first time.

The corporation says it will step aside from moral and political debate over creation of controversial names and hand it over to an international body. However, it has not yet secured participation of any authorities. The decision to release the names is expected to create a boom in the internet domain name assignation business. This time, the gold rush spirit is likely to be dampened by regulatory problems, which ICANN has not yet solved. It has been able to regulate trademark and intellectual property matters with some success, and Mr Twomey said a similar protection scheme would apply for new gTLDs.

ICANN, however, has been thrust into moral debates over the establishment of gTLDs. When it accepted applications for new names to inscribe on its register of gTLDs around two years ago it was embroiled in a polemic as to whether .xxx should be included as a so-called internet red-light zone. Former Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan congratulated ICANN's board when it rejected the domain, advocated by Florida-based internet company ICM Registry. At the time Mr Twomey said .xxx could be revived and there was no reason ICM or another company couldn't apply for it again under the new scheme, and this time ICANN wanted no part in the decision-making. ICAAN has pushed that role to global authorities that had not yet been named, Mr Twomey said.

The land grab to come from ICANN's announcement won't be like previous spells of domain name mania back in the nineties. It will be costly to buy the privilege of having a name because essentially those that do will become a registry operator alongside the authorities running the .com or name space.

Paul Twomey, the Australian president and chief executive of ICANN, said it would be an expensive exercise beyond the reach of individuals and businesses at the small end of town. "It's not going to be cheap. People will have to pay low six-digit US dollars and ongoing costs. You've got to show that you've got the capacity," Mr Twomey said.

The cost was likely to skyrocket past the application fee, said Chris Disspain, head of Australia's peak domain authority, auDA. "You either have to build your own registry, which costs about $3 million or $4 million, or you go to one of the existing registries such as AusRegistry or Verisign and pay them to run it for you. "People are not going to want to do this just for themselves. Mostly this is intended to be so that you can sell domain names," Mr Disspain said. "That means the number of gTLDs in operation — about 230 at the moment when you include country codes such as .au — is about to increase dramatically, dropping a large chunk of change in the coffers of tech companies that have the expertise to run registry businesses. "This is not like you registering, where someone puts up a website for you. You need massive amounts of computing to make sure it's always there," Mr Disspain said.

Bruce Tonkin, chief of Victorian internet domain registry specialist Melbourne IT, said he was expecting big revenue from the move. "Melbourne IT sees potential for our global clients in the process that will allow countries to obtain domain names that represent their country name (ccTLD) in a non-Latin script. "The present system only supports 37 characters, and expanding this to include non-Latin characters will expand the ability of our clients to reach millions of internet users who don't recognise Latin-based languages," Mr Tonkin said.

ICANN was canvassing several international authorities to establish a board to oversee the name registration process, Mr Twomey said.

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