The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has started accepting applications for new generic top-level domains, a move that has the potential to befuddle consumers and provide a gold mine for scammers.
There are 22 top-level domains in existence but under the new system that figure could balloon into a dizzying number of domains. From now on anyone with deep pockets can set up their own top-level domain. For example, a multinational company could have an Internet address with a .coca-cola extension or a politician could have .mittromney instead of being saddled with a bland old .com.
What's more, top-level domains will no longer need to use the Latin alphabet. They can be in Cyrillic, Arabic or any other language. While that change removes an element of Western imperialism from the Internet, it could also open the door for scammers, who have been gaming the existing Internet address system for years with alphabet legerdemain.
Although no one will know how many new potential domains there could be until after ICANN's deadlines for applications have expired -- March 29 for filing through the organization's top-level domain application system, April 12 for filing through other channels -- money could be a significant limiting factor.
There's a $185,000 "evaluation fee" -- $5,000 of which must be paid upon application -- which could be even more if "special steps" are needed to evaluate the application.
However, ICANN has a financial aid program for developing nations that knocks the fee down to $47,000.
Because the new domain name scheme is such a radical change from the past, the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Commerce Department asked ICANN to delay the application process until the implications of the move could be fully understood. ICANN rebuffed those requests and is steaming forward on the program.
Not all U.S. government officials, though, are opposed to ICANN's action. At a recent discussion about Internet governance held at the Brookings Institute, Lawrence Strickling, administrator at the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, tagged as short-sighted pleas by opponents of ICANN's move for the United States to block it. He argued that unilateral action by the government could encourage other countries to attempt to influence ICANN's decisions and undermine the organization's independence in the long run.
The government hasn't been the only critic of the generic domain scheme. Trademark holders, still smarting from having to purchase domain names they'll never use in order to keep them from being exploited by .XXX cybersquatters, aren't keen on a similar scenario developing over generic domains.