Are you ready for the Big Bang?
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Are you ready for the Big Bang?

The Internet is about to experience a Big Bang, with an explosion in the number of top-level domains (TLDs) from about 300 to what could be 1500 over the next few years

The first of the new TLDs will soon start to be delegated, explained Stephane Van Gelder who has his own consulting firm, yesterday, and they are expected to go live within a year. Despite repeated delays to the launch, said Van Gelder: “We can expect new gTLDs to begin arriving Q3/Q4 this year.”

Panelists in the session yesterday explained how the ICANN process works, highlighting issues of concern to brand-owner applicants, and discussing what the expansion will mean for trademark owners and Internet users. A further session today will focus on trademark protection options.

One theme yesterday was the growing pains of the expansion. “This program was not designed for brands. It was designed to expand domain space and provide more choice,” said Van Gelder, who used to chair ICANN’s GNSO, which drew up plans for the new gTLD rollout. One example of the unintended consequences is whether so-called “closed generic” registries, where a brand owner seeks to operate exclusively a TLD for a generic word such as books, would create competition problems. Another is whether applications that differ only in that one is singular and another plural should be treated as in contention.

With the panel representing different viewpoints, they did not agree on everything. But on at least two points they were in accord.

First, things will only get more complicated. Moderator Adam Scoville of RE/MAX and chair of INTA’s Internet Committee predicted a “shakedown in the market” as TLDs are launched, bought and sold. And, he added: “If price comes down and the process becomes more stable, there will be many more brand applicants in the second round.”

Lawyer John Berryhill, who advises gTLD applicant Uniregistry, said many applicants were being frustrated in their intentions to provide additional protections, for things such as personality rights.

He also questioned whether the new gTLDs would achieve all of ICANN’s objectives: “Domainers are highly skeptical. They think .coms will go up in value.”

Second, ICANN needs reform—but is still the only game in town. “Deadlines have been missed time and time again. These delays undermine the credibility of ICANN to a large extent,” said Nick Wood of Com Laude, while Berryhill added: “It’s not a structure that facilitates debate.” But as Van Gelder said: “There is an alternative [government control of the Internet] and we probably wouldn’t like it.”

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