New Delhi: Internet domain names are on the threshold of a sweeping change. Instead of being confined to a handful of extensions such as .com or .org, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will allow any word to be registered as a domain name extension, or generic top-level domain (gTLD), as they are known. Rod Beckstrom, president and chief executive officer, ICANN, who calls it the “largest opening in the history of the Internet", in an interview in India said this will lead to innovations that can’t even be imagined today. Advertisers and marketers are critical of the move as they say it could lead to a spurt in litigation over cyber squatting. Edited excerpts:

You have said opening up gTLDs will increase competition and reduce prices. Is that the idea behind the move?

Web rules: Beckstrom says there is a set of rules to determine which applications could go through and the qualifications for applicants. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

How did the idea come about?

The idea came about in the 1990s. When parties were looking at creating ICANN, one of the concerns was with .com for example. (The) .com registry had so much power, it was a primary choice, then there was some concept written about ICANN, and in those initial documents, it talked about generic top-level domain names which generated interest in the global Internet community in having more and it certainly represents the largest opening in history in generic top-level names, and it is a far more complex programme.

So is there a categorization in terms of what can be registered, or is it open to imagination?

There is a set of rules; the rules really determine which applications are likely to go through or what the qualifications are for the applicants and in terms of strings (domain name extensions), any string can be applied for. But what the applicants have to think about is (that) the parties can also file objections. So, if they are trying to use the string that somebody else owns, if you are you violating somebody’s trademark or service mark, you are going to have problems. So you may not want to spend all this money on an application. One application costs $185,000. In case of cities, there are rules. So capital cities, for example, like New Delhi, it can be applied for only in India, but the party is going to need a letter of no objection from the relevant government bodies. So someone might apply for New Delhi in some other country of the world; they won’t be able to apply—capital city names are protected, for example. For other cities, if someone filed a community-based application with city name, they still need to have the support or a letter of no objection suggesting that they represent the community. Now, in some cases, city names are the same as product names. In that case, a community-based application will get preference.

What is the time frame we are talking about here?

The window for applications will be open from January 2012 till April 2012. We will publish a list of strings by May, so that anyone who has a problem can check the list and send objections. The first set of names should be given out by the end of 2012.

Several advertisers and marketers are opposed to the idea as they think it will lead to a lot of litigation.

We don’t seek to convince anyone on anything except that our practices have been fair. The only thing that an organization has to do is to act in the global public interest and conduct its policy development practices in a transparent way, and we have done that. The documentation is absolutely extensive—thousands of pages that address different needs. Now that it’s been developed by the global Internet community, our job is to make sure that we are absolutely fair and non-partial.

Do you agree that there will be increased litigation and cyber squatting?

There have been disputes over domain names ever since they appeared on the Internet. So the disputes won’t stop. Domain names are unique names, and in being unique, they are scarce. And in being scarce, parties have different economic interests. So that’s what so many protections have been put in place for. Having said that, there will always be disputes and different opinions. Our job is to make sure we do the best job at the protection of interests.

What about cases where multiple applications with the same name are received?

All the applicants have to go through checks, financial checks, background checks, criminal checks, etc. If they pass all that, community applications will have preference over standard applications. But in case none of the applicants are community, then in that case, it depends on whether they have a trademark. The organization with a trademark will get preference over others. But if all of them have trademarks in different categories, then they all pass through; they will be notified that they all have passed to the point where they can find a solution among themselves. If they are not able to reach any solution, then it will go to the auction and the name will be given to the highest bidder. The money from the auction would go to non-profit activities and will not go back to ICANN.