Who gets to run .abortion Web sites — people who support abortion rights or those who don’t? Which individual or mosque can run the .islam or .muhammad sites? Can the Ku Klux Klan own .nazi on free speech grounds, or will a Jewish organization run the domain and permit only educational Web sites — say, remember.nazi or antidefamation.nazi? And who’s going to get .amazon — the Internet retailer or Brazil?
The decisions will come down to a little-known nonprofit based in Marina del Rey, Calif., whose international board of directors approved the expansion in 2008 but has been stuck debating how best to run the program before launching it. Now, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is on the cusp of completing those talks in March or April and will soon solicit applications from companies and governments that want to propose and operate the new addresses.
This week, hundreds of investors, consultants and entrepreneurs are expected to converge in San Francisco for the first “.nxt” conference, a three-day affair featuring seminars on ICANN’s complicated application guidelines. The conference’s Web site, which has a list of applicants, is not without a sense of humor: “Join the Internet land rush!” a headline screams, above a photograph of the Tom Cruise character galloping on a horse in the movie “Far and Away,” the 1992 film about giveaways out West in the late 19th century.
These online territories are hardly free. The price tag to apply is $185,000, a cost that ensures only well-financed organizations operate the domains and cuts out many smaller grass-roots organizations, developing countries or dreamers, according to critics. (Rejectees get some of the application fee returned.) That’s on top of the $25,000 annual fee domain operators have to pay ICANN.
Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a grass-roots firm in Los Angeles, alleges that the new domains are designed purely to make money for ICANN and the companies that control the domains. The new Web addresses, he added, will only mean more aggravation for trademark holders and confusion for the average Internet user.
Peter Dengate Thrush, chair of the ICANN board of directors, argued that the high application fee is based on the nonprofit’s bet that it’s going to get sued, and to protect against cybersquatters or other organizations ill equipped to manage an entire domain of hundreds, if not thousands of Web sites. “Our job is to protect competition and give extra choices for consumers and entrepreneurs,” Thrush said.