ICANNIt is not an understatement to suggest that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) new plan to increase the number of top level domains is one of the biggest changes to the Domain Name System since it was founded.   Top Level Domains (gTLDs) are those domain names at the the highest level of the Internet’s hierarchical domain name system.

Evolution of the domain naming system has been slow relative to changes in Internet technology. In the 1980s, only seven gTLDs (.com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net, and .org) existed and in the following years, ICANN slowly added new domains such as .biz, .info, .name, .pro and so on.  More recently, a .xxx was added, totaling 22 top level domains.   Now all that has changed.  On June June 20, 2011, ICANN’s board voted to permit top level domain names to “end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways.”  ICANN’s description of the new changes were nothing less than ecstatic.  Here’s a sample:

ICANN has opened the Internet’s naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today’s decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind,” said Rod Beckstrom, President and Chief Executive Officer of ICANN.

Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” said Peter Dengate Thrush, Chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors. “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.

Getting one of those new names is not going to be simple or inexpensive.  First, there will be an extensive evaluation period for each applicant and second, there will be some hefty fees.  The proposed evaluation fee will be $185,000 plus a $25,000 annual maintenance fee.  Without a doubt, the big players in the branding world will be quick to take advantage of the new system.  Expect to see domain names like cameras.nikon or shoes.nike.   Clearly, the advantage of the new naming system for small businesses will be few. If you’re interested in the details, here is a link to ICANN’s guidebook to the new gTLD system. You’ll want to monitor ICANN’s web site because the new gTLD’s will only be offered during a set period of time with later rounds at future dates.  Click here for the fact sheet.

— Adam G. Garson, Esq.