On June 20, 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), announced that it will begin to allow almost any term as a generic top-level domain name. For instance, banks could register “.bank”, law firms could register “.lawyers”, etc. The possibilities are endless. This is the most important change to the domain name system since 1984 when the system was established. Currently, there are only about 20 top-level domains (.com, .net, .org, etc.). Applications will be accepted during a limited window from January 12, 2012 through April 12, 2012.

Domains today cost about $10 to register and maintain annually. These new domains will cost $185,000 for the application and $25,000 to maintain annually. These may sound like astronomical fees, but if you consider the economic value and also that various entities can share the “.bank” domain, then the fee might be viewed as quite modest. Additionally, once owned, the owner could sell off usage rights, which could be worth millions. For instance, the owner of “.bank” could sell “chase.bank” to Chase, “citi.bank” to Citi, etc. You can begin to see the possibilities.

How will ICANN handle competing claims for the same domain – like “.bank”? If the competitors can’t resolve the issue themselves, then ICANN will auction the domain. Obviously, in such a case the price could become astronomical. It’s not a first come – first served process like today’s registration of the standard available domains.

This expansion process also has numerous complexities. For instance, ICANN will have to resolve trademark disputes and infringement claims and determine allowable domains when faced with applications for obscene, violent or hate-related names.