The opportunity for .Islam, .Riyadh and .Arab Published in Arab News, on January 18, 2012 by Molouk Y. Ba-isa

After more than seven years of planning, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) initiated a process last week that could trigger a dramatic expansion of the Internet. ICANN has begun accepting applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs).

The world of .com, .gov, .org and 19 other gTLDs will soon be expanded to include all types of words in many different languages. For the first time generic TLDs can include words in non-Latin languages, such as Chinese, Arabic, Hindi or Hebrew. For instance possible gTLDs could be .food, .Riyadh or .Islam.

There was intense pressure from large companies and US lawmakers to delay or limit the program, but ICANN rebuffed the objections. “Many of the recent concerns expressed about the new top-level domain program are more about ‘perceived’ problems than actual deficiencies,” said Steve Crocker, chairman, ICANN. Global brands worry that they will have to spend up to two million dollars annually in order to protect trademarks across the new gTLDs. Plus, they’ve already spent millions promoting their current domains, which may be diminished by the new gTLDs — with customer confusion and online fraud cited as negative outcomes. Before imagining that any cyber squatter can take a gTLD and abuse it, know that owning one of these domains doesn’t come cheap. Alexa Raad, CEO of Architelos wrote in a CircleID blog that applying for a new gTLD is an expensive process, costing an estimated half million dollars for the application and legal and professional services — assuming there are no other applications for the same string or name, nor any objection to the filing. The minimum cost estimated is about $250,000 and that’s far from realistic.

Despite the expense, with the process launched, applications are being received. Cities including New York, Paris and Berlin have already announced that they will be applying for .nyc, .paris and .berlin, as have companies such as Canon and Deloitte. Of the approximately 160 new top-level domain applicants that have been publicly announced thus far, about 32 percent are based in the USA, 10 percent in Germany and less than one percent are from the Middle East/Africa region. “Here is yet another example of the Arab region risking missing the boat when it comes to new technical developments,” said Nabil Alyoussuf, director of Dubai-based domain consultancy DotBrand Solutions MENA. “We are currently working with some companies and governments all over the region who have grasped this opportunity to obtain better presence, security and control of the Internet through their own gTLDs. But most are still taking a ‘wait and see’ approach while the rest of world is taking action.” The most alarming missed opportunity will be for new domain names in Arabic. The Internet will be flooded with new languages, as “IDN” domain names in Chinese, Hindi and dozens of other scripts, are introduced through the new gTLD process.

“There are currently only 21 gTLDs, controlled by a small number of US companies,” said Alyoussuf. “Even if we use a conservative number, the introduction of 1,000 new gTLDs will be the biggest change ever to the domain name system, and an opportunity for non-American organizations to take control of core infrastructure of the Internet. This is the opportunity to have Arab-owned equivalents of .com, .net and .org — in Arabic. The opportunity may not arise again for five, even ten years.”

Alyoussuf noted that cities as small as Melbourne, Australia and Cologne, Germany are obtaining their own gTLDs. He can’t understand why with all the millions of dollars invested in establishing Arab cities on the world stage that there isn’t more attention to the gTLD registration.

“Similarly, when the largest Western companies start using their own gTLDs, these will become a mark of truly world-class brands,” said Alyoussuf. “Right now, major Arab corporations have the opportunity to join those brands. The application window closes on April 12. Once gTLDs hit the Internet it’s certain that brands using the current .com domain will run the risk of being perceived as ‘lower’ than those brands that have their own TLDs.”

One point that the entire Muslim community will want to watch is that there is the potential for an application for .Islam or .Muslim. ICANN claims that “community” applicants will be given preference for such a registration. ICANN regulations have provisions for government vetoes as well as public objection and arbitration procedures designed to prevent any domain getting into the wrong hands. It is essential that Muslims are active in following any application for a gTLD associated with their faith.

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