New Internet Suffixes Are The Web's Newest Frontier

Jun 13, 2012
Originally published on June 13, 2012 5:32 pm
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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The Internet is one step closer to unprecedented expansion. Today, the international body that regulates the Internet revealed who's looking for new suffixes. These will be alternatives to the dotcom, dot-net or dot-orgs that we're used to.

As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, there's been a lot of speculation and controversy about the Internet's newest frontier.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: What's happening now on the Internet is the rough equivalent of a land grab. A whole new crop of entities have applied for the right to operate vast new territories of the Web. Amazon applied for nearly 80 new Web suffixes, including dot-amazon, dot-music and dot-book. The Alsace region of France wants dibs on dot-alsace. Several companies are vying for dot-restaurant and there are similar designations in Chinese and Arabic characters.

In all, ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said it received nearly 2,000 applications for what they call global top-level domains. Rod Beckstrom is ICANN's CEO.

ROD BECKSTROM: I think this is a historic day.

NOGUCHI: Beckstrom has spent years to defending this expansion from critics who said it opens the doors to new avenues for SPAM, trademark infringement and consumer confusion.

BECKSTROM: The Internet thrives on openness and creativity comes in, innovation comes in, and it just gives people more choices. We didn't have smartphone applications 10 years ago. Today, we have more than a half million. I've never heard anyone complain that there's too many smartphone applications.

NOGUCHI: The entities who win approval would administer all domain names ending in their suffix, governing who and how those sites are used. This could mean entirely new business opportunities; companies may use them to assign consumers their own webpage, similar to an email or bank account - like, for example. Many of the applicants, including Hermes and Volvo, applied for suffixes matching their brand, dot-Hermes and dot-Volvo.

Critics of the program say ICANN's expansion forced companies to pay $185,000 to apply for a name, just to defend their brands. But Beckstrom says, judging from the applications most companies didn't feel compelled to do that.

BECKSTROM: We certainly didn't expect everyone to apply. If you look at a Fortune 10,000, for example, if all had applied, we'd have 10,000 applications.

NOGUCHI: But what about dot-sucks, which three companies applied to receive? How can a company defend its brand from getting abused on sites with that suffix? ICANN says there will be a trademark clearinghouse where companies can register their brands to prevent infringement.

Roland LaPlante is senior vice president of Afilias, a company that applied for a total of 305 of the new top level domains, either for itself or on behalf of clients. He argues this expansion of Web domains will actually improve security and clarity on the Web. Take, for example, drug companies like Pfizer, a company that applied for the eponymous suffix.

ROLAND LAPLANTE: They'll have complete control of what goes on in their top-level domain. And that means, in those domains, there will be no SPAM, no phishing, no malware, none of the other evil things that are happening on the Internet today. So there's a big security benefit to having your own top level domain, particularly if counterfeiting has been an issue for you.

NOGUCHI: LaPlante says the new top-level domains will also have a decluttering effect on the Web. Internet addresses keep getting longer and longer because they are so many dot-coms. These new suffixes, LaPlante says, will make addresses shorter and simpler for consumers to remember.

LAPLANTE: I think it's just a matter of evolution. It'll take some time for people to get used to these new TLDs. But I think it'll happen in a natural, evolutionary way.

NOGUCHI: All applications will be subject to an independent review. Objections can be filed over the next seven months. And the first of these new websites are expected to go live sometime early next year.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.