First two new top-level domains become operational

The first two of the seven new top-level domains (TLD) approved for addition to the official Internet domain name system became operational today after the U.S. Department of Commerce gave the go-ahead for them to be activated.

However, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced yesterday that the .biz and .info domains will initially be used only for informational Web sites being launched by the two companies chosen to manage the registries for the new TLDs. Actual Web sites registered under .biz and .info likely won’t go live until September, ICANN said.

Sterling, Va.-based NeuLevel Inc., which was picked to operate the .biz registry, today said it’s starting to accept domain name applications from ICANN-accredited registrars as part of a registration process that’s scheduled to run through mid-September. The .info registry will be managed by Afilias Ltd., a consortium of domain name registrars in Newtown, Penn.

The two new TLDs are the first to be added to the official domain name system overseen by Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based ICANN since existing ones such as .com, .net and .org were created in the 1980s. M. Stuart Lynn, ICANN’s president and CEO, said the activation of .biz and .info “successfully benchmarks what has been a thoughtful community process over the past year.”

ICANN’s board of directors approved final plans for launching .biz and .info last month (see story). But agreements covering the management of the other five new TLDs that were approved last November – .name, .pro, .aero, .coop and .museum – have yet to be finalized.

ICANN has faced criticism for moving too slowly to add new TLDs, a charge that was fueled by its decision to reject a large number of applications in order to limit the number of domains being introduced now (see story). In response, ICANN officials have said they have a responsibility to ensure the long-term stability of the Internet and to guarantee that new top-level domains work properly.

As part of yesterday’s announcement, for example, Lynn said the launching of .biz and .info took several months because of the need to make sure that the new TLDs pose as little technical risk to the functioning of the domain name system as possible. “We are breaking new ground,” he said in a statement.

Members of the ICANN board have indicated that they want to expand the number of TLDs in the future. But the organization said yesterday that the performance of the seven new domains will be evaluated in the coming months as a “proof of concept” before more steps are taken. The evaluation will also “address practical and administrative issues,” such as methods for protecting corporate trademarks, ICANN added.

David Legard of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.