The new internet names: a plain English explanation

There is much hoopla today over the hundreds of new names like “.baby” that could soon join “.com” and “.org” as fixtures of the internet. Many people, including some who hope to get rich, are hyping this is as a land grab while companies and consumers are questioning why the names are for sale in the first place. Here’s a Q&A:
What are these new names and when will they arrive?
The suffix at the end of a website is called a “top level domain,” or TLD. Right now there are about a dozen top level names like “.com” or “.biz” plus other all the ones reserved for countries like “.ca” for Canada or “.jp” for Japan. Now, hundreds of more TLD’s like “.lol” and “.apple” are set to be live by early next year. The complete list of names and their would-be owners was posted for the first time today and can be found here.
Who will own the new names?
In some cases, familiar companies like Google (s goog) and Amazon (s amzn) have applied to own the names. In most cases, it’s companies you haven’t heard that want to make money selling websites  (for instance, the owner of “.dogs” could sell names like “www.rover.dogs” and “www.lassie.dogs”).
So all these companies are now going to run the internet?
Not exactly. Running a top level domain registry is an expensive and complicated affair. While some big technology firms like Apple (s aapl) might be up to the task, most companies are not. They will instead decide to outsource that part of it to existing registries and focus instead on the business of selling websites.
How does a company get a TLD in the first place?
The applicants paid a non-refundable $185,000 application fee to request a name. If they can show that they have the qualifications to do the job, they will likely get it. They will then have to pay an annual fee of at least $25,000 to keep it.
What if more than one company wants the same name?
This is an issue. Today’s list reveals that 11 companies applied for “.app”, nine applied for “.art”, seven for “.news” and so on (see here for most popular names). When there are multiple applications for a name, the companies that meet the technical qualifications will have an auction to determine who gets to own it.
What happens now that the names have been announced?
There will be a sixty-day period for the public to comment. According to trademark lawyer Joanne Ludovici-Lint of McDermott Will & Emery, companies will then have seven months to bring formal objections to any of the proposed names. Disputes will be resolved by ICANN (see below) and the World Intellectual Property Office, which are the same bodies that resolve disputes over website ownership.
Why do we have all these new names in the first place?
This was ICANN’s idea. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit agency located in Los Angeles that oversees internet names and addresses. Over the last decade, it added new TLDs such as “.jobs” and “.coop” and then decided to make the number of TLD’s essentially limitless.
Why is there a controversy over the new names?
Critics say it will lead to a new flood of cyber-squatting. Brand owners are already upset with ICANN for creating new TLD’s like “.pro” or “.travel” that they don’t want or need. In the case of last year’s “.xxx”, for instance, major companies across America called the scheme a “shakedown” and “extortion” because they felt forced to buy up the names before a squatter did. The arrival of hundreds or thousands of new names will exacerbate the problem. “Father of the internet” Vint Cerf has also expressed skepticism, recently telling a Dutch newspaper (translation):

“Hundreds of new brands and generic names to add now? I see no benefit in that. Many companies fear that they will soon must follow hundreds of new Internet extensions to ensure that their names never be abused. They have a point.”

So who does ICANN report to?
The body was once overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce but in 2006 it signed an agreement that made it autonomous. It now professes allegiance to a “multi-staker model” but in reality appears to be accountable to no one at all. As this devastating article by a Wired editor recounts, former members of ICANN have engaged in a brazen act of self-dealing by creating the scheme to sell the names and then turning around and offering registry and consulting services (a trademark lawyers says today’s list shows that a company owned by the former ICANN chair has filed the third most applications). ICANN has also ignored requests by companies to create a “defensive registry” that allow them to protect their names and is planning to use half of the hundreds of millions of fees it is collecting to fund a legal war-chest.
(Image by Anna Omelchenko via Shutterstock)