Expanding the number of suffixes has been one of ICANN's missions since its creation in 1998 to oversee domain names. ICANN had two test rounds, in 2000 and 2004, and is now ready to expand the domain name system more broadly.
Here's how it will work:
THE APPLICATIONS: The system will open on Thursday at 12:01 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time. Applicants will have to answer 50 questions covering such things as what a proposed suffix will be used for and what kind of financial backing the company or organization has. They'll have until late March to begin the application and until April 12 to finish. The applicant must pay $185,000 to submit the application, including a $5,000 deposit to get started.
THE CHALLENGES: ICANN will say in May what suffixes have been proposed. The public will have 60 days to comment on them. That is when someone can claim a trademark violation or argue that a proposed suffix is offensive.
THE REVIEW: ICANN will review each application to make sure its financial plan is sound and that contingencies exist in case a company goes out of business. Applicants also must past criminal background checks. If multiple applications seek the same suffix, ICANN will encourage parties to work out an agreement and hold an auction if they cannot. The review is expected to take at least nine months, meaning approval of the first batch won't happen until February 2013 or later. If there are challenges or other problems, ICANN believes the review could take up to 20 months.
THE LAUNCH: Once a suffix gets approved, the applicant will have to set up procedures for registering names under that suffix and computers to keep track of them. Applicants might have all that already completed in anticipation of an approval. The application pays an annual fee that starts at $25,000. The suffix gets activated and becomes available for use. All that could take days or months.