The Internet address structure is being extended. As of 2012, it will be possible to apply for any desired terms to be used as the address ending. This will mean that addresses like "www.timetable.sbb" and "www.studies.eth" will become possible. Experts are discussing the opportunities and dangers for business and the public administration at today's "New gTLDs" information event in Bern, which has been organised by SWITCH and the Swiss Federal Office of Communications.
To date, the address endings in the Internet, the so-called Top Level Domains, have been limited to country endings, such as .ch, or terms like .com, .org or .info. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for the international coordination of the Internet addressing system. As of 2012, it will be permitting any desired terms as address endings. Applications can be submitted to ICANN for the so-called new generic Top Level Domains (new gTLDs) as of 12 January. The two dozen or so address endings that have been in use up until now could soon be supplemented by company, sector and government endings like .hotel, .nestle, .geneva or .sbb.
Strictly controlled opening
Any organisation wishing to operate a new domain name must submit its application to ICANN itself. The application procedure and the evaluation are complex and expensive. The evaluation takes between nine and twenty months and will cost an estimated US$ 185,000. This elaborate process is intended to ensure that the new domain endings are subject to strict controls and are only awarded on a limited basis. Registered brand names like .nestle and key geographic names such as .berlin are protected in such a way that only their rightful owners can register them. While there are no restrictive provisions for generic names such as .bank or .insurance, the public will have the opportunity to raise objections as part of the evaluation procedure.
High expectations, critical voices
ICANN views the new gTLDs as a further development of the domain name market, which can make contents and brands more visible in the Internet. While generic endings do not involve a fundamental change to the Internet, they can influence the search for information and will permit new structures in the online presence of companies, associations and governments.
Resistance is also building up to the new gTLDs, however. The Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO), comprising 87 organisations and associations chiefly from the USA, is fighting this innovation. They fear that it will involve excessive costs and an enormous outlay for companies if they have to pay attention to all possible name combinations that could constitute a trademark infringement.
"We will only be able to see how this innovation changes the Internet when the new address endings are in use", explains Marco D’Alessandro, media spokesman at SWITCH. SWITCH and OFCOM regard it as their task to provide neutral information so that Swiss businesses and the public sector can decide whether and how they wish to use the new gTLDs.
As a non-profit organisation, SWITCH has been guaranteeing Switzerland’s access to the Internet for almost 25 years. One hundred employees work on a daily basis on further developing Internet technology, facilitating the exchange of knowledge for Swiss universities and increasing the security of the Internet in Switzerland. In 2012, the Internet service provider with its head office in Zurich will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.