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New domain name rules

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) put in motion new top-level domain (TLD) name rules on June 20th, that are set to usher in virtually unlimited possibilities for the World Wide Web. This is seen as a seismic shift in the way the Internet is managed and controlled.

Meeting in Singapore, ICANN decreed that beginning in 2012, organisations may dispense with the very familiar .com, .net and the like in favor of almost anything they want, as long as the organisation is willing to pay what some view as a rather hefty fee.

The group responsible for managing policy for domain names has announced it will cost groups $185,000 to apply for a new Web suffix, which can now be any word in any language of choice.

The first round of applications for new top-level domain names begins in January 2012, which will run for three months through April 2012. In addition to the $185,000 upfront fee, successful applicants will also be asked to pay a $25,000 annual fee to operate the registry.

Large corporate entities are salivating at the thought of owning domains that more closely align with their branding. “Coke will have ‘.coke’. I imagine McDonalds will want to acquire ‘.McDonalds.’ I can feel the Internet gold rush starting again already,” said Lance Ulanoff in, “However, where the mid-’90s rush required little more than a pick-axe and a horse-drawn wagon, this prospecting will require the equivalent of a Lamborghini and a safe-cracker.”

Governments can also come up with their own domains. Any public or private organisation can apply for a new suffix as per the ICANN directive. There have already been online conversations about the possibility of big cities taking ownership of a .Miami or a .Seattle, or a .Karachi, for example. A domain that is specific to a city could be an economic driver and help with tourism initiatives. 

This is a time when relevance and adaptability of government is being subjected to a very real-world test. By extension, the public-sector information technology community is included in this discussion. The urgent question is around how well, how nimble and how agile Pakistan’s government structure is at adapting to the new environment while not losing sight of the future. If a sound strategic approach is created to leverage this new ICANN directive, opportunities for tourism, small business development, attracting high caliber technology companies, job growth and facilitating government transparency are not far fetched dreams for Pakistan’s local governments.

ICANN President and Chief Executive Officer Rod Beckstrom has stated that ICANN has opened the Internet’s naming system to unleash the global human imagination. According to Beckstrom, this decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. They can be in any characters. So Cyrillic, Kanji or Devanagari, for instance, are choices for users of Russian, Japanese and Hindi. ICANN hopes this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind.

But not everyone shares Beckstrom’s claim of enthusiasm.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols at ZDNet states that the only point in opening the doors to an endless number of top-level domains is to increase the profits for domain name registrars (DNR). Stephen Shankland at CNET sees the new domains as a “blessing and a curse”, suggesting that “companies now get new opportunities to reinforce their brand names, but at the same time it means trademark holders could face expensive new challenges in defending their trademarks”.

Others forecast the move will lead to diminished innovation and additional headaches for small businesses. Some find the news mildly depressing since they see it as yet one more way in which the Internet’s free and open nature is being curtailed. Their argument is that ICANN’s announcement means that, starting next year, the larger global companies will be spending lots of money to control sections of the Internet. Small enterprises and nonprofits, meanwhile, will be stuck competing over .com addresses. In this context, fair competition will become opaque. The new names could infringe on social and religious sensitivities as well if not managed properly.

What the exact impact will be of the new rules for top-level domains remains to be seen. But by the end of next year, it is certain that the average user’s browser bookmarks are going to look different. If managed properly, ICANN’s new directive can certainly help Pakistani cities and businesses in obtaining a ‘new’ kind of access to global markets. It is conceivable that our government will help smaller companies access markets that even some of today’s larger companies cannot. This is a unique time for our leaders to act. While few of us will have the opportunity to create an entirely new industry and change the course of human history, we can take a lesson from Henry Ford’s recognition that the past and public opinion are not the right tools to foster innovation.

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