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Q&A on plans to expand the Internet address system

By Anick Jesdanun
AP Technology Writer / June 13, 2012
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NEW YORK—Proposals for Internet addresses ending in ".pizza," ".space" and ".auto" are among the nearly 2,000 submitted as part of the largest expansion in the online address system.

Apple Inc., Sony Corp. and American Express Co. are among companies that sought names with their brands. Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. sought dozens of names, including ".app," and ".play." The wine company Gallo Vineyards Inc. wants ".barefoot."

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced the proposals for Internet suffixes, the ".com" part of an Internet address, Wednesday. They now go through a review process that could take months or years.

Here are some questions and answers regarding plans to expand the Internet address system:

Q. What are domain names?

A. Think of them as shortcuts for navigating the Internet. Just as it's easier to find the Empire State Building at 350 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan rather than through its GPS coordinates, it's easier to type in "google.com" rather than remember "173.194.79.99." Google and other search engines have reduced the need for domain names. But these search engines are essentially catalogs of the Internet, and they depend on the domain name to take you to what you're looking for. Also, domain names aren't used only for websites. The part after the "at" symbol in email addresses is the domain name.

Q. How many domain names are there?

A. There are millions of domain names including "bbc.co.uk" and "microsoft.com." If you're just thinking of the suffix, formally known as the top-level domain name, there are currently 313. The most popular is ".com," with about 100 million names registered. Anybody willing to pay $10 or less a year can get one. Others are restricted to certain groups, including ".aero" for the aviation industry and ".edu" for U.S. colleges and universities. The bulk of the suffixes are two-letter designations for countries and territories, such as ".fr" for France and ".aq" for Antarctica. Some countries also have suffixes in their native languages, so websites in China can use the Chinese equivalent of China rather than ".cn."

Q. Is the list static?

A. Suffixes come and go. The European Union gained ".eu," while Midway Islands and other U.S. minor outlying islands lost ".um." Following East Timor's independence, ".tp" became ".tl." A handful of others got added over the years, including ".biz" for businesses and ".xxx" for porn sites. Now, suffixes will be added more broadly -- up to 1,000 a year.

Q. Who decides these things?

A. ICANN is in charge of domain name policies. The U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet's early development, delegated the task to the group in 1998. ICANN is a nonprofit organization with headquarters in California and has board members from around the world, though the Commerce Department retains limited oversight of the group.

Q. How does a company or group get a new suffix?

A. The application period closed on May 30. Bidders had to pay a fee of $185,000. They also have to make a 10-year commitment and pay annual fees of at least $25,000 if they win. The money will pay for ICANN's costs setting up the system, reviewing applications and making sure parties do what they have promised once the suffix is operational. Some of the money will be set aside for potential lawsuits from unsuccessful applicants and others.

Companies and groups that didn't apply for a suffix will likely have another chance in a year or two. ICANN plans to take proposals again after it finishes reviewing the current round, although it has announced no specifics.

Q. How will new suffixes affect average Internet users?

A. They could expand the dwindling number of easy-to-remember names. A florist called Apple can't use "apple.com" because the computer company has it. Previously, the shop might have registered a longer, clunky address. If ".flowers" gets approved -- there are four bidders for it -- that shop could go for "apple.flowers."

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