ICANN picks seven new top-level domains

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Thursday selected seven new top-level domains for the Internet, in a long-anticipated bid to provide competition for the popular .com domain and to make more and specialized domain names available to corporations and individuals.

The new top-level domains are: .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .aero, .museum and .coop.

“This is only an initial sampling of [top-level domains]…The ones that we selected represent a good mix,” said Esther Dyson, outgoing chairman of the ICANN board of directors at the conclusion of the unanimous vote. “This is a very important, first giant step for domain-kind.”

ICANN’s 19-member board of directors selected the new top-level domains at a meeting in Los Angeles that was open to the public and broadcast over the Internet.

ICANN’s staff will now begin contract negotiations with the organizations that proposed the new top-level domains. If the negotiations go as planned, names under the new top-level domains will be available for purchase next spring.

In the beginning of October, ICANN received 44 valid proposals from organizations seeking to become registries of new top-level domains. Each proposal included one or more suggested top-level domains and was accompanied by a $50,000 application fee. Many of the proposals offered multiple top-level domains, resulting in a pool of 191 options from which ICANN could choose.

ICANN’s board selected the new top-level domains based on the technical, business and financial strength of the proposals, while trying to foster internationalization and competition in the domain name registry business.

One big winner in ICANN’s selection process is Register.com, which is involved in two winning proposals: .pro through a joint venture with Virtual Internet called RegistryPro; and .info as a participant in the Afilias consortium of 19 domain name registrars.

Other winners are NeuStar, which manages telephone number assignments in North America, and Australian domain name registrar Melbourne IT. The two companies formed a joint venture called JV Team that is involved with the winning .biz proposal, but JV Team lost out on proposals for .iii for personal Web space and .geo for geographically referenced information.

The process was a draw for VeriSign, the sole registry for .com, .net and .org and the largest domain name registrar. VeriSign Global Registry Services teamed with Japanese telecommunications provider KDD Internet Solutions on .biz and .home, which was rejected. However, its Network Solutions registrar arm is part of the Afilias consortium.

Companies that weren’t successful in their bids for new top-level domains include SRI International, Novell and Nokia. SRI’s two proposals – .iii and .geo -were eliminated in the final round of debate. Novell proposed a .dir domain for directory services information, while Nokia proposed .mobile for routing messages to wireless Internet devices.

Corporations are looking for ICANN to ensure that trademark owners will have the opportunity to buy their company and brand names in the new top-level domains before the names are made widely available under a so-called sunrise policy. They’re also looking for ICANN to apply its uniform dispute resolution policy to the new top-level domains.

“What we’re concerned about is that this will become the next land rush. People will run out and register names in the new domains and the true owners of those names will have to pay exorbitant fees to get them back,” says Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel at Verizon Communications.

In other news, ICANN’s board of directors elected Vinton Cerf as its new chair and Alejandro Pisanty as vice chair.