Like the land grabs of the old American West, businesses could see a rush for new domain names if the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decides to introduce new top-level domain names by the end of the year.

Though most of the dot-com and dot-net names are already taken, new generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) could give companies a shot at a domain name held by another business or by so-called “cybersquatters,” who buy a domain name and wait for the highest bidder.

Here’s a look at ICANN ’s plans for new domain names and how businesses might benefit.
To make this concept as clear as a bell, we’ll use our own URL as an example. In, “com” is the top-level domain, “techrepublic” is the second-level domain name, and “www” would be considered the third-level domain name.
ICANN’s plans
ICANN, the non-profit group that oversees Internet domain names, said last month during a meeting in Cairo that it is considering adding between six and 10 top-level domains. Current domains include .com, .org, and .net. So far, it’s unclear what the new domains would be. However, ICANN’s section of frequently asked questions uses top-level domains such as .firm, .store, .law, and .arts as examples.

A decision on the new names and their criteria could come out as early as this May, when ICANN holds its next meeting. But companies shouldn’t expect to be able to actually use a new domain name until the end of next year. That’s when ICANN’s test phase could begin.

The March 21 ICANN committee report suggests that new domain names will increase consumer choice ”and create opportunities for entities that have been shut out under the current name structure.”

The report suggests that companies that are late in registering domain names are too limited in their options.

The report also examines the idea that cybersquatters are inflating the value of domain names.

However, according to ICANN’s report, some people fear that adding new domain names could confuse consumers and touch off a new round of cybersquatting with a rush on the names of established businesses.

What new domain names could mean for businesses
Analysts and industry watchers say the new names can offer a way around the dot-com traffic jam. James Love, director of the Washington, DC-based Consumer Project on Technology , believes new domain names will also help eliminate confusion between businesses, and permit all kinds of companies to expand names and areas. “Suppose you can’t get the name you want in a dot com because it’s taken,” Love said. “It would be fairly easy to get one in a more appropriate [domain], where it would be more meaningful.”

Others contend it would help eliminate confusion over similar names.

“It would definitely eliminate the ‘guessablity’ of a name if you have a large number of top-level domains,” said Milton Mueller, an associate professor in Syracuse University ’s School of Information Studies and a member of ICANN subcommittee studying new gTLD proposals.

Availability of new domain names
Even when the new domain names make their debut, you will likely have to get in line to get the name you want. Some see the possibility of new top-level domains as an opportunity for people to buy and sell valuable domain names.

“The day they bring those [new domains] out I’ll be on the phone registering any name I’ve been trying to get,” said Michael LeBlanc, president of LeBlanc Communications Group in Norwalk, CT. “Then, hopefully, I’ll sell the others for enough money to cover my cost. Unfortunately that is the way it is out there, kind of like a prospectors’ market.”

Love says that ICANN’s proposal to add between six and 10 new domains is overly cautious, and he worries that the new domain names will run out too quickly. “We think it’s better to start with 100 to 200 [new domains], which we think is actually easier to test,” he said. “I think at this point, some people are more conservative. But [once] they get the system in place then there’s going to be a land rush for top-level domains.”

Some people hope that by opening up the domain options, the squabbling over certain names will cease.

“There are a lot of people making a lot of money on secondary [dot] com names,” Mueller said. “[They would] like to maintain this scarcity.”

“Most people don’t realize that you can have hundreds of thousands of top-level domains,” Love said. “And once it begins to dawn on them that they are beating each other’s brains out to find out what’s left…they’ll be pretty angry that these bureaucrats were trying to force everybody in the world to just use one.”

Although ICANN agrees that more domains are needed, they haven’t yet decided the criteria each will have to meet and are planning to roll them out slowly.

In the meantime, Mueller says there are things that businesses can do to stake their claim on one of the new domain names.

How businesses can prepare for new domains
Mueller says that as soon as the new domain names are released, companies should put together a business plan to submit to ICANN as an application for one of the new names. The proposal should outline what top-level domain names you need and should explain the nature of your company’s service to justify the string you’ve requested.

The business plan should also explain the technical infrastructure that would be employed and include the business model and how you plan to charge customers to recoup your cost.

Love says you should start lobbying ICANN’s Domain Name Supporting Organization for the domain name(s) you want.

However, Mueller questions how receptive ICANN will be.

“I think ICANN listens very carefully to a certain group of people,” he said. “The intellectual property holders are somebody they listen to very carefully. They listen to the registrars, but I’m not sure they listen to the people who have new technical ideas and aren’t already big companies.”

No matter what size your company is, the new top-level domain names will be beneficial. “There will be a fundamental change in the landscape of e-commerce that most people aren’t even thinking about,” Love said. “If you have an expansion of differentiated domains, you expand the space and you actually end up protecting more trademarks in the long run because…you allow the domain to convey some real information and reduce consumer confusion.”
Would new domains help your business? Does someone have the domain name you want? If you own domain names that are for sale, are you concerned that new domains will lower their value? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.