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Last month in Paris, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) voted to allow the registration of new top-level-domains (TLD’s) by businesses. TLD’s are the suffix of a domain registration, e.g. the ‘com’ in ‘google.com’, and up until now have been limited to country specific representations e.g. ‘.fr’ and a few generics such as ‘.net’ and ‘.biz’.

The new rules could open up the market to all sorts of imaginative concepts: pepsi.cola and financial.times are just a couple of suggestions that have appeared in the news so far.

However, there are also potential problems that could arise with the change. The tiny island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean, which has been ravaged by rising sea levels, currently makes $4 million a year from licensing of its top-level-domain, ‘.tv’. Throwing the TLD market wide open may drastically lower demand for this and other TLD’s which play a crucial role in the economy of some of the world’s poorest nations.

Businesses may also find that the change could damage, rather than cement, their brand identity and could have huge financial ramifications. A company that cannot afford, or is not quick enough to snap up their own brand name as a TLD could find that another, perhaps unscrupulous party, has done so instead. This practice, known as domain squatting, can cost companies thousands in legal fees and could cause substantial harm to their brand in the process.

For better or worse, it is expected that licences for new TLD’s will be available from next spring but don’t get too excited. Prices are predicted to be around the $100,000 mark, making them worthwhile for only the largest of online businesses.

Although whatever the price, you can bet there’s an Englishman somewhere willing to fork out for ‘.beer’.

Posted on 22/08/2008
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