In a major change to the domain name system, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has announced a draft plan (or Guidebook) that will allow for applications for new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and is seeking comment from interested parties.”Since ICANN was founded 10 years ago, one of the foundational principles has been to support competition and consumer choice in generic top-level domains. That competition is meant to promote innovation and enhance user choice and satisfaction” said Dr Paul Twomey, ICANN’s President and Chief Executive Officer.”The Internet has produced great openness and innovation that has led to changes few of us imagined. The effect of opening up the top-level of the domain system will enable more innovation and entrepreneurial applications” he said.Currently there are 21 of these gTLDs, such as .com, .org and .info, all of them using Roman (or English) characters. Groups already expressing an interest in applying for new gTLDs include those for .berlin, .paris, .nyc (New York City), .cym (Cymru/Wales) .car and .sport, among others.The addition of non-Roman characters (or internationalised domain names – IDNs) will mean that not only will new gTLDs be available using non-Roman characters, but existing gTLDs and ccTLDs (country code Top Level Domains) will also be able to add these.”There are 1.5 billion people online and billions more coming. The majority doesn’t speak English. Opening up domain names in this way means a whole new way for people to express themselves. The potential for innovation and diversity is huge” said Paul Levins, ICANN’s Executive Officer and Vice President Corporate Affairs.There has been a long debate involving several of the proponents of new gTLDs over the last few years that has seen many discussions at ICANN meetings around the world. Some of the controversial issues have involved the possibility of offensive gTLDs, protection of brand names and trademarks, dispute resolution procedures and how geographic names will be considered.These controversial issues are addressed in the Guidebook. In regards to what could be considered offensive gTLDs, third parties will be able to object to proposed TLDs that are racist, sexist or otherwise offensive. Geographic gTLD names that are a country, territory, county or state will require the support from a relevant government or authority, as will applications for a city gTLD unless the name is to be used only to represent a generic term or brand.Brand protection is another key issue, with all applications required to develop a proposed Rights Protection Mechanism. This is to ensure proposed gTLDs do not infringe upon the existing legal rights of others that are recognised or enforceable. Further, that brand names and trademarks are not abused in the registration process once the approved gTLD is operational.Those eligible to apply are any established corporation, organisation, or institution that is considered to be in good standing while applications from individuals or sole proprietorships will not be considered.When applying, the guidebook says applicants would be required to designate whether they are applying for an open or community gTLD. Open gTLDs are somewhat flexible in their use, as long as the applicant is an established corporation, organisation or institution. A community gTLD needs to be operated for the benefit of a defined community and have the support of that community.The proposed application process will consist of a gTLD evaluation fee of US$185,000 and the completion of the application form using ICANN’s TLD Application System (TAS) and another fee of $100. The application fee is designed to be cost/revenue neutral and factors in costs already forgone, future processing costs and legal expenses that are significant and which ICANN believe would be a large drain on their budget. Applicants will also be required to demonstrate they have the technical competence to run a registry.Where there is two applications for the same, or similar, character string, ICANN proposes to resolve this through an auction process if no other settlement or agreement can be made between the parties.To explain these proposed new rules, ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook, over 200 pages, is available to enable interested parties to make comment. The Guidebook will be made available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.To encourage public participation and comment in the process, ICANN have developed a public comment page to collect input on the Draft Applicant Guidebook for new gTLDs. It is also important to note that all materials are in draft form during this public comment and review process, which will last for at least 45 days till early December.Following this Draft Applicant Guidebook, a final guidebook will be issued in the first quarter of 2009 with an application launch period in the middle of 2009.More information, along with the Guidebook, is available from icann.org/en/topics/new-gtld-program.htm.