Currently the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is accepting applications for new top-level Domains. Top level domains are what goes ‘after the dot’ in an internet address. There are two-character country code domains like .us, .cn, .ca, the long time familiar ones like .com, .net, .org, and .gov and a few that have lesser usage like .name, .pro, .aero, and .museum. The most recent addition has been the .xxx top-level domain that was intended for adult content sites. Instead, a large part of the activity involving .xxx involves organizations such as universities buying the domains so that nobody can create, for example, ucla.xxx
Recently ICANN has opened a three month window for applications for new domain names, specifically welcoming brand names to register as top level domains. This means there might soon be .google or .facebook or .pepsi top level domains. The move had firms that manage domain registrations very pleased ,but the owners of a great many brand names thinking “oh no, not again!” That application period ends on April 12. However, there is a distinct possibility that ICANN will never get a chance to issue any of those new TLD’s.
The US Government created the internet. It started as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration Network or DARPANET. It was used as a way to connect institutions working on non-classified research, as well as a working tool for researching computer networks themselves. The design that they came up with was distributed and hierarchical, and at the very top was the Root Authority.
To internationalize the acceptance of the internet a portion of the US Department of Commerce called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was told to contract out the decision making process, called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to a neutral nongovernmental agency. The actual root authority remains at NTIA, as does the right to issue and reissue the IANA contract.
The first IANA contract was given to the the newly founded ICANN in 1998. It was renewed in 2005 for an additional six years. Last year NTIA issued a Request For Proposals for the IANA contract for the next six years. However on March 11th the NTIA rejected all three proposals, including ICANN’s, and issued only a six month extension to September 2012 when it will re-issue the RFP. This was seen as a stinging rebuke for ICANN. In explaining their rejection of all the bids, the NTIA cited insufficient protections against conflict of interest between the bidders and the registrars that stood so much to gain financially from IANA decisions.
Despite the sudden uncertainty, it would still be a bad choice for companies to ignore ICANN’s application period for the new TLD’s (whether they plan on defensively registering their own brands or to challenge others’ attempts at doing so). It is entirely possible that ICANN will adopt sufficient reforms to satisfy NTIA and get a full renewal of the IANA contract.