The landscape of the Internet will change in the next year with an increase in the amount of name spaces and the entry of competitors into fundamental Internet functions previously controlled by monopolies.
On Thursday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers chose dot-biz, dot-info, dot-name, dot-pro, dot-museum, dot-aero and dot-coop as the domain suffixes of the future.
The introduction of these top level domains is also expected to usher in new competition on a variety of fronts.
The most obvious place for new competition is in the Internet’s name space. With the dot-com top level domain (TLD) busting at the seams and dot-net growing exponentially, consumers are clamoring for more space on the Net.
Dot-biz is expected to ease the pressure and give the dot-com top level domain a run for its money. The TLD will compete not only by offering extra space, but additional prestige: dot-biz domains will cost $2,000 to register and $150 to maintain.
The higher price means that only serious registrants will be getting dot-biz domain names. In addition, the proposed dot-biz TLD carries with it restrictions on who can sign up for dot-biz domains, according to Clive Flory, president of the JVTeam which won the right to operate the dot-biz TLD.
“Dot-biz domain names will be offered for registration by businesses for commercial uses only and not for personal use,” Flory wrote. “The TLD shall be restricted to any individual, organization, or entity that desires to advertise their business and/or conduct commercial activities on the Internet.”
Where a dot-com domain might be anything from a highly funded e-tailer to a 13-year-old’s hobby page, dot-biz domains are meant to be pure business.
The same is true for dot-pro, dot-museum, dot-aero, dot-coop; all of these are restricted top level domains – which means that only individuals and groups that belong to or will service the TLD’s core constituency can register domains. Dot-pro is for professionals, dot-museum for museum, dot-aero is for the aerospace industry and dot-coop is for bona fide cooperatives.
“Where the dot-com TLD now restricts professionals from distinguishing themselves, dot-pro … will help professionals in the medical, legal and accounting services,” wrote the dot-pro team.
Price competition is also important. Currently, the artificial scarcity of the dot-com TLD has led some entrepreneurs to an interesting work-around: A few companies are partnering with country code top level domains (ccTLDs) to turn the two-digit, country-specific extensions into general purpose TLDs.
Such is the strategy with dot-tv, the ccTLD for the country of Tuvalu. The dotTV Corporation, in an exclusive partnership with the people of Tuvalu, is offering dot-tv domain names for general use.
But all this comes at a price higher than registrars charge for dot-com, dot-net and dot-org. As of this writing, elizabeth.tv is available for $1,250 per year. Non-dictionary names and words are cheaper; jsmith.tv is going for $50.
Another place where ICANN’s new top level domains will increase competition is in the domain name registry business, a market in which competition has never truly existed before.
A domain name registry is a system that stores the contact information of domain registrants and tells the Domain Name System which computer on the Net hosts the domain. By contrast, a registrar provides the front-end interface that users see when registering domains. Many registrars can use one registry.
There has been no competition in the area of domain name registries since the U.S. government put Network Solutions (now Verisign Global Registry) in charge of registry operations for dot-net, dot-com and dot-org.
There have been some unofficial contenders, however, most notably Imagine Online Design and Name.Space, two companies that ran unofficial registries unconnected to the domain name system. Both Name.Space and IOD lost their bids, however, to become official registries.
After the board’s will is implemented sometime next year, several new players will enter the registry market: Tucows, Register.com and CORE, the Internet Council of Registrars.
Tucows has developed software, OpenSRS, to allow future dot-info registrars to connect with Open eXtensible Registry System, the expandable, open-source system that will be the brains and muscle of the dot-info TLD.
“On the registry level, we look to forward to extending the breadth of services that a registrar can provide,” said Elliot Noss, Tucows President and CEO.
Noss said the registry biz badly needs competition. He noted that under Tucows’ registry system, dot-info domains will be added to the Domain Name System in five minutes. By contrast, incumbent Verisign Global Registry takes up to 12 hours to make domains a reality on the Net.
Tucows has come a long way since its start as a shareware repository on the Net. As it turned out, the network of ISPs that mirror the Tucows website proved to be the seed for the company’s present success.
Not everyone came away a winner from the ICANN board meeting in Marina Del Rey, California. Of 44 applications, only seven TLDs were chosen.
Among the losers: teams pulling for top level domains like dot-geo, dot-health, dot-union, dot-web and literally hundreds of others.
The dot-web application sponsored by Image Online Designs was notable in its failure to garner consensus among the board. IOD President Chris Ambler, a long time ICANN critic, tried to strike a conciliatory chord with the board and stressed his company’s years of experience of running an alternative dot-web registry.
His supporters were many, including dozens of commentators on ICANN’s website and in live chatrooms during the board meeting.
“Gooooooooo Chris,” cried one online participant as Ambler addressed the board on Wednesday.
But IOD’s support did not end with the rag-tag rabble of comments from the Net. Vint Cerf, ICANN board member and a man commonly known as the father of the Internet, also threw in his support for Ambler’s work.
“I also was fairly impressed by the IOD comment that they’ve been operating a registry for five years,” Cerf said. “The IOD guys have been at this for a long time and I have some sympathy for pioneers.”
Still, other board members were not so convinced, with Hans Kraaijenbrink noting that IOD had been accepting domain name pre-registrations before his registry gained approval, a practice that is frowned upon by ICANN. IOD’s unofficial dot-web registry has more than 18,000 domain name registrations.
“We have to be careful of pre-registration,” said board member Ken Fockler. “The wrong decision here might set up the wrong incentives and precedents, encouraging people to set up registries in advance of applying to ICANN.”
Still other board members noted that IOD’s business plan called for a one-year monopoly on registry and registrar services, a plan similar to the government-sanctioned monopoly granted to Network Solutions in the early days of the Internet.
“I think that Chris deserves a lot of credit for what he has done, but I have to say that IOD’s economic model is exactly what the National Science Foundation did with NSI,” said one board member.
The ICANN advisory team cautioned against the IOD plan because the software developed by the company merges registry and registrar operations. They noted it was unclear how long it would take the company to allow other registrars to interface with their solution.
Nonetheless, Cerf succeeded in pushing the board to leave open the dot-web TLD in this round of applications, giving Ambler a second chance for another day.
It was not a good day for the alternative registry operators. Name.Space, which offers domains in 546 unapproved TLDs, also did not get approval from the board of directors for even one name space, even with Chairwoman Esther Dyson pulling hard for the upstart.
Other notable applications that failed to garner consensus included dot-union, which died after the board split 5-5 on a vote, and dot-health, a TLD proposal put forth by the World Health Organization.
“We are extremely disappointed with this outcome … and are eagerly awaiting the rationale of this decision, especially in light of decisions made to grant other TLDs,” WHO officials said in a statement
The ICANN board said it was likely that more rounds of applications would be accepted in the future.