Web domains to get major overhaul with custom names

Icann web page Registering a new custom top-level domain will cost approximately $185,000 (£120,000)

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Applications will soon open for new top-level domains in the biggest change to the system in over two decades.

From Thursday it will be possible to register almost any word as a web address suffix.

Familiar endings like .com and .org could potentially be joined by the likes of .pepsi, .virgin or .itv.

The proposals are controversial but Icann, the organisation which regulates domain names, says the change increases choice and competition.

In December, the US Federal Trade Commission wrote to Icann warning that the expansion of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) "has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down internet fraudsters."

And in the US, the Association of National Advertisers, whose members include some of America's biggest companies, have also opposed the changes.

Not cheap

But Peter Dengate Thrush, a former chairman of Icann's board of directors, said the change was necessary.

"It's badly in need of overhaul," he told the BBC.

Start Quote

We're already working on over 100 applications - we're expecting that to increase”

End Quote Stuart Durham Melbourne IT DBS

"No-one would design a domain name system now for several billion users just using a couple of names that we started the system with in 1985."

Mr Dengate Thrush is currently chairman of Top Level Domains Holdings, a company developing registry services for top level domains.

At a cost of $185,000 (£120,000) just to apply, obtaining one of the new names is a serious financial commitment.

"Probably you are closer to half a million dollars to get it off the ground," said Jonathan Robinson, a non-executive director of Afilias, a registry operator which manages extensions like .mobi and .info.

The cost has lead to concern among some non-profit organisations that they will have to spend considerable sums defending themselves from cyber squatters.

Last month, the Reuters agency reported that the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and 26 other international organisations wrote to Icann asking it to protect suffixes like .imf from cyber squatters.

Deadline approaching

In spite of the cost there has been significant interest in applying for the new general top-level domains before the deadline for applications closes in April, according to companies advising on registrations.

"We're already working on over 100 applications - we're expecting that to increase," said Stuart Durham of Melbourne IT DBS.

Users in an internet cafe in Times Square, New York The new domains could make using web addresses more complicated and confusing

He said around 25% of those had been "from Fortune 500 companies", with the majority of interest from the retail and financial services sectors.

As well as brand names, Mr Durham said there is likely to be a lively interest in place names.

"A lot of the geographic extensions that are being discussed like .london or .nyc will have a very good solid business case," he said.

"We've recently had extensions like .cat for the Catalan community that's done very well as well."

However, Mr Dengate Thrush worried this could lead to some conflict issues with places like Wellington, capital of his native country New Zealand, which shares its name with other places around the world.

"I think there are about 20 or 30 other cities called Wellington." However, he believed the systems set in place by Icann will ensure these issues can be successfully negotiated.

Cyber squatting

Even those who support the change foresee some issues.

"I would say it's almost certainly a good thing," Afilia's Mr Robinson told the BBC.

However, he says "you open up a whole new second tier of real estate that could be cyber squatted".

But Mr Durham thinks that there's very little that could be done to eradicate malicious squatters and others seeking to exploit the system.

"Cockroaches would survive a nuclear attack," he said.

"Some cyber squatters and infringers would too."

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