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ICANN attracts 100 would-be Net domain operators

So far, 100 registrants can apply for generic top-level domains to expand beyond .com to .all-sorts-of-things, Internet overseer ICANN says.

ICANN logo

ICANN, the Internet overseer that's begun a process to expand Net domains dramatically beyond the likes of .com and .edu, said today 100 organizations have registered to get involved.

The expansion concerns generic top-level domains, or GTLDs. ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) spent years putting the new program together so the Internet could use Web and e-mail addresses ending in .paris, .canon, .hotel, and .eco.

As of Monday, 100 registrants successfully joined the program, but ICANN didn't say who they are or what GTLDs they're seeking to establish. Organizations have until March 29 to register for the program and until April 12 to actually apply for the GTLD. Each registrant may apply for as many as 50 GTLDs.

The total indicates serious interest by many parties in adding new addresses to the Internet, though it'll take months for ICANN to review the applications themselves.

The GTLD expansion has raised hackles among advertising groups because some fear it will lead to potentially expensive difficulties when it comes to defending brands and trademarks. ICANN says the system is set up to protect against brand problems, though, in part through use of a trademark clearinghouse.

A successful GTLD applicant doesn't just get the rights to use a Net address. Instead, it gets the right to operate the actual registry similarly to how Verisign operates the .com registry.

Although the GTLD expansion raises some new cybersquatting and trademark protection issues, ICANN's plan isn't likely to appeal to those without a serious commitment. That's because it costs $185,000 to apply to be a GTLD operator and $25,000 a year to operate the registry.

What kind of evaluation process comes for applicants? A long one.

Here's how ICANN describes it in a GTLD FAQ:

There are several stages that an application may pass through prior to a final determination being rendered. Those stages are Administrative Check, Initial Evaluation, Extended Evaluation, String Contention, Dispute Resolution and Pre-delegation. The shortest path for a successful application is to pass Administrative Check (lasting 2 months), Initial Evaluation (lasting 5 months) and then move to Pre-delegation (lasting approximately 2 months) without any Objections filed or String Contention concerns. In this case the evaluation process could take as little as 9 months to complete. On the other hand if an application does not pass Initial Evaluation and elects Extended Evaluation and/or is in the Dispute Resolution or String Contention stages then the evaluation process could take up to 20 months to complete (or longer in the event that unforeseen circumstances arise). Please refer to Section 1.1.3 of the Applicant Guidebook for detailed information on timing estimates.

If that's daunting, the guidebook itself is a 349-page PDF. The process clearly isn't for the faint of heart. But it's also one where ICANN has to proceed very carefully, so it's no surprise it's not as simple as just registering a new domain name.

Corrected 11:39 a.m. PT to note that Verisign operates the .com registry.