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Any word can be name in domain expansion

We’re all familiar with .com and .org, but what about .comedy or .orgy?

Or .comcast or .organic?

Those and thousands of other potential Web domains are on sale, courtesy of ICANN - the tiny nonprofit that runs the Internet address system.

The change is the “most significant opening in the history of the domain-name system,” said Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN (Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers).

At midnight Wednesday, ICANN began accepting applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the part of the Internet address that lies to the right of the “dot.”

There currently are 22 gTLDs in use, including .com and .org, and 248 country TLDs, such as .uk and .us.

The change allows any word to be a domain and, for the time, non-Latin alphabets - such as Chinese, Arabic and Hindi - to be gTLDs.

“There’s a sense from [Internet] users around the world that this is fair and this right,” Mr. Beckstrom said.

Outlining details of the expansion at a Washington think tank this week, he said no one is certain how many applications for new gTLDs ICANN would receive.

“We planned for 500,” he said. “The highest number I’ve heard [as an estimate] is 4,000.”

But the change has many critics who fret that it will represent a bonanza for scam artists, counterfeiters and other online crooks.

The new gTLDs risk creating a “dramatically increased opportunity for consumer fraud,” stated the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a letter to ICANN last month, urging that a pilot program be established before the new domains are opened.

The concern centers on the possibility that crooks could set up websites to sell counterfeit goods, fooling consumers with cartier.watches, for example, and that the proliferation of new Internet addresses could make it even harder to track down online criminals.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz warned Congress last year that the domain address change could create “a disaster.”

“We see enormous cost to consumers and businesses and not a lot of benefit,” he said at a December hearing.

Nonetheless, ICANN intends to go ahead, Mr. Beckstrom insisted, saying many people were asking, “Why is this taking so long?”

“There’s a lot of controversy, a lot of people who would like things done a little differently,” he said, noting that “millions of dollars have been spent in this town by parties that wanted to make their views known.”

The first new domains are expected to go live next year after what Mr. Beckstrom said would be a rigorous vetting process.

Companies or organizations have four months to apply to ICANN for a new domain and the right to sell addresses on it.

There is a nonreturnable $185,000 application fee, a third of which goes into a legal-defense fund for ICANN and the remainder of which is spent on due-diligence procedures such as a criminal-background check on applicants and a global database of brand names and trade or service marks to protect copyright holders.

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Shaun Waterman
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