Major shakeup to domain names will affect millions

Ben Moss.
April 01, 2014
Major shakeup to domain names will affect millions.

thumbnailAt the end of last week ICANN, the body responsible for the allocation of domain names online, announced it will be adopting changes to domain name structure first proposed at the Paris conference in October. Those changes center around increased localization of existing domain names.

Localization of domains will involve cancelling all existing top level domains and reissuing a geographically local alternative. Whilst the changes won't actually come into full effect until January 1st 2018, the first email notifications to pre-existing domain registrants will be sent out as early as the second quarter of 2016.

New suffix structure

The new suffix structure will apply to .com, .org and .net domains; decisions regarding other suffixes will not be made until the 2015 conference in Bern. The new domains, when they come into force, will consist of the existing top level domain, followed by a regional, national and continental suffix.

Existing .com domains will be reassigned based on the address of the registrant. So for example, WebdesignerDepot's new domain name (indicating 'British Columbia', 'Canada', 'North America') will be:

There are two further suffixes which also included in ICANN's specification, although they are likely to remain silent for now: .ear will be used to represent Earth, and .sol will be used to represent the Solar system—these suffixes are being added for future-proofing and aren't expected to be in practical use for the foreseeable future. This means that our full domain will actually be:

ICANN's strategy director Oscar Binnie believes that localising domains in this way will create the opportunity for small firms to grow and expand naturally on the Web:

What we see now, is a small firm in Tallahassee, registering a domain that blocks a similar business in Phuket from operating under the same identity…what will result [once these changes come into effect] is both firms effectively using the same domain name to reach their customers via localized suffixes.

Domain name owners will have first option on securing domains they already have registered, with a six month registration window to open in June 2017. Any domain options not taken up during this primary period will then be made available on a first-come first-serve basis.

Redundant shortcoding

ICANN have promised to introduce redundant shortcoding for domains. The system advocated by the Internet regulator, and reportedly favoured by several tech giants including Google, Microsoft and the W3C, is based on the shortcoding model used by the New York Stock Exchange's redundancy system. It means that to remove one level of suffix, at least 51% of conflicting domains must resolve to the same IP address.

There are ten provinces in Canada, which means that our potential domains for Canada are:

  • (Ontario)
  • (Quebec)
  • (Nova Scotia)
  • (New Brunswick)
  • (Manitoba)
  • (British Columbia)
  • (Prince Edward Island)
  • (Saskatchewan)
  • (Alberta)
  • (Newfoundland and Labrador)

If we register at least 51% of these domains our domain will be automatically shortcoded to:

We also have the option to remove the national portion of the extension by registering 51% of provincial domains in 51% of North American countries. There are 22 countries that make up North America, meaning that we'd need to hold a 51% share of at least 12 countries.

The best value domains are: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, each with 6 administrative regions. The worst value is the USA with 50 regions, followed by the Bahamas with 32 and the Dominican Republic with 31.

To shortcode our domain for the whole of North America, we'll need to register at least: 4 domains from Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, and Costa Rica; 6 domains from Canada, Dominica, Haiti, Barbados, and Saint Lucia; and 8 from El Salvador, and Jamaica; a total of 66 domains, which would shortcode us to:

It's worth noting that under this system, someone in Durango, Mexico would be able to register, and even be able to shortcode it down to, but they wouldn't be able to shortcode it further if we have already registered for the whole of North America.

If we want to remove all of the new suffixes we need to shortcode down to a global domain. To do that we need to register 51% of regional domains in 51% of countries in 51% of continents.

The new continental domains—.afr (Africa), .asi (Asia), .eur (Europe), .nam (North America), .oce (Oceana), and .sam (South America)— are joined by .pol, the domain for the South Pole. Importantly, ICANN has determined that no political entities exist on the southern polar continent, meaning that .pol is a premium domain for anyone looking to secure global exclusivity of any domain name.

There are 14 countries in South America, 22 in North America, 31 in Oceana, 42 in Asia, 49 in Europe, 58 in Africa. The cheapest route to a global shortcoded domain would therefore be to take control of the .pol domain and 51% of countries in South America, North America, and Oceana. That would mean registering approximately 217 domains, leaving us with:

The cost of registering a single .com for the maximum 10 year period will therefore rise to around $32,484.00

Managing the change

Over $32,000 for a single domain is excessive for the majority of small businesses, even if the anticipated subscription models allow staggered payment over the full duration of the registration. Freelance consultant Paul Dennehy suspects that's exactly what ICANN is trying to achieve:

Over the last decade we've seen tens of thousands of businesses effectively domain squatting on a global domain presence, whilst only trading locally. ICANN's move is intended to extend the number of domains available and prevent early Web adopters from trading off that initial investment.

It is unlikely that domain name registrars will be offering the full number of domains available to you. Instead, they'll offer you the regional domain appropriate to your location, then offer you the option to upgrade to national, continental or global, depending on your budget and the current availability.

It's unclear at this stage what actual costs will be imposed, it's highly unlikely the market will bear such large costs, and domain name providers are likely to offer substantial discounts. But domain registrars will be taking on a lot of extra admin work, so they will naturally pass the additional cost on to their customers. Whilst $32,000 may be a worst-case scenario, it is unlikely to be too far from of the mark.

The implications

What is of significant concern is the lack of equality produced by the new system: someone in Canada will be able to claim the national domain subset by registering 6 regional domains; in the USA you'll need to register 27 regional domains to be the owner of the national suffix; in the UK you'll have to register 98 regions.

What is of greater concern is the opportunity for greater domain hijacking. On the 1st January 2018, all domains will automatically be converted to their regional equivalents based on registrant location, if the registrants fail to upgrade then anyone will be able to register the domains necessary to resolve the subset down to the global level; should, for example, Google fail to register enough regional domains, the global domain name would be available to register; this means that companies have to pay up, or lose their most valuable marketing tool to a competitor.

This change is likely to infuriate domain owners who thought they'd staked a claim on their corner of the Web, only to find it being resold from under them. However, it will go someway to combatting the domain squatting that plagues new business owners.

One thing is for sure, if we don't buy into this change, from 1st January 2018 our full domain name will be

[ Update: thanks for all the great feedback, in case it wasn't clear, this article is an April Fools' Day prank. ]

Featured image/thumbnail, uses Earth image via DonkeyHotey.

Ben Moss

Ben Moss has designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. When he’s not in front of a screen he’s probably out trail-running.

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