FEATURES & COMMENTARY
New York, N.Y. — The Internet’s oversight body said it will accept proposals next month for expanding the pool of online addresses used to find Web sites. New domain names such as “.movie” or “.travel” would help relieve the crowded field of dot-coms. They would be the first global suffixes added since the 1980s, when Net use was limited to academics and bureaucrats.
“We’re within striking distance,” said Andrew McLaughlin, chief policy officer for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. “Barring some disasters, we’ll start seeing new names early next year.”
As the Internet grows, the pool of short, simple names shrinks. So the Internet needs new domain suffixes, the same way the phone system often requires new area codes. At stake is a New Economy increasingly dependent on the Net and on customers’ ability to easily find Web sites.
ICANN will issue formal guidelines as early as Friday. For a $50,000 application fee, any company or organization may propose a new suffix. Applications will be accepted Sept. 5-Oct. 2, and two weeks of public commenting will follow.
The Net organization will review the proposals and approve a half dozen or so new names at its annual meeting in November.
Several questions remain on how the new names would blend with existing ones. For instance, would Ford Motor Co., the owner of Ford.com, automatically have the right to any new name, even if former President Gerald Ford wants it for a presidential library? And would a name like “.museum” be open to anyone, or only to exhibitors?
ICANN has not made any decision on these or many other issues, and has asked applicants to propose solutions. Many critics believe ICANN should have settled these matters ahead of time. But McLaughlin said the group wanted input from the Internet community to avoid appearing “top down and heavy-handed.”
In making a final decision, the organization will also consider how the new name would be managed and what needs it would fulfill.
Meanwhile, ICANN finished registering voters to elect five board members this fall. Those members would contribute to future policy decisions on domain names and other Net issues.
More than 158,000 Internet users signed up, far greater than the 10,000 that ICANN initially expected. As a result, the registration system broke down, and many users were unable to register in time. Voting will take place by continent in early October.
Four North Americans are on the ballot so far: Lyman Chapin, chief scientist of BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.; Donald Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; Lawrence Lessig, law professor at Harvard University; and Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.