Every since the very beginning of the Internet, new top level domains (TLD) have been added incrementally. Currently the number of TLDs stands at 22, but thanks to a process that begins today that number could be over 1,000 by this time next year.
The new TLDs are known as generic top level domains (gTLD) and can potentially be any word, in nearly any type of human language script. The current pool of TLDs are entirely in Latin script and include among others: .com, .net, .org and country codes TLDs (ccTLDs) like .de (Germany) and .cn (China).
"This is the first time in the history of the Internet that generic top level domains can be created in non-Latin characters," Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN said during a press conference announcing the start of the gTLD program.
Non-Latin characters had previously only been available as part of internationalized domain names (IDNs) for country code TLDs (ccTLD). The IDN process officially approved the first non-Lation IDN ccTLDs in 2010.
The path to today's historic milestone comes after over six years of debate and discussion. The gTLD program was officially approved by ICANN as a program to implement in a meeting in Singapore in June of 2010.
"We think the world is ready for this innovation," Beckstrom said. "We believe that this program will do what it is designed to do, which is open up the Internet domain name system to further innovation."
Beckstrom noted that there has been concern about the program and he stressed that the initiative has multiple protections in place to protect trademark and rights holders for intellectual property and names. In Beckstrom's view, the new gTLD system will help improve competition in the Internet, as well. He noted that domain name prices have dropped by over 70 percent since ICANN was first formed 12 years ago.
The process by which new gTLDs will be granted is a complex and costly one. Applicants are required to pay a fee of $185,000 to even be considered. The people behind a bid are all subject to background checks. New gTLD applications will be publicly posted for public comment prior to approval. The initial application period is open for the next three months, in which time ICANN could handle as many as 1,000 new gTLD applications.
"With the new TLD program, you'll see entirely new business names that are related to the names that people are able to get in the top level domain system," Beckstrom said.