Pressure builds to make ‘.nyc’ a reality

Councilmember Gale Brewer at OneWebDay in 2009, the year she sponsored a City Council resolution backing a .nyc internet domain. Photo: Dana Spiegel/Flickr

Move aside, web domain dinosaurs “.com” and “.net.” If the New York City Council has its way, a City-owned “.nyc” domain could debut as early as this year – but only if the Mayor’s Office and city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) take action before the March 29 registration deadline to apply for the “.nyc” generic Top Level Domain (gTLD).

Such applications became possible after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – a tiny nonprofit in California that governs the domain names worldwide – set new regulations late last year that would allow nearly anyone to apply for any conceivable domain, from “.tree” to “.jeremylin.” ICANN will allow up to 1,000 new suffixes per year; accepted applicants must pay a $185,000 ICANN fee to complete domain ownership.

Rod Beckstrom, the corporation’s CEO, calls the opening of the gTLD the “most significant opening in the history of the domain-name system,” and industry analysts are anticipating a flood of applications. ICANN currently registers 22 gTLDs including .com, .net, and .org, and 248 country TLDs, such as .us and .uk.

New York City would be an obvious applicant. In her 2009 State of the City address, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed introducing a .nyc domain as a source of revenue for the city. The year before, City Councilmember Gale Brewer had issued a resolution declaring Council support for the initiative and urging ICANN to approve an application by the city, should one be made, “in order to meet the needs of city residents via the Internet.”

In 2009, DOITT sought a consultant to oversee a .nyc domain name application, but never awarded a contract. The agency’s director of external affairs, Nicholas Sbordone, said the city is currently negotiating with a vendor that will partner with the city in applying for the .nyc TLD. “Once the vendor selection is finalized, an application for the .nyc TLD will be submitted; and were that application to be approved by ICANN, the vendor would assume operational responsibility of the .nyc TLD under City oversight,” wrote Sbordone in an email.

The city’s past solicitation for a consultant indicates New York City likely intends to act as an overseer of the .nyc domain and hire a third-party registrar like Go Daddy to sell secondary domains (with words before .nyc, such as to businesses, institutions and individuals.

The city’s backing isn’t incidental to the application. Applicants for geographical names such as .nyc require “government support,” according to ICANN’s guidebook.

But unlike action to sell property owned by the city, the release of city-controlled internet real estate is not subject to public review under the city charter. DOITT is acting behind close doors and has not even responded to inquiries from the City Council or advocacy groups about a city application for .nyc.

Councilmember Brewer, who chaired the Committee on Technology in Government (now the Committee on Technology) from 2002-2009, says she has not received any response to her repeated requests for updates on the process even as the registration deadline looms near. Just two weeks ago, Brewer wrote Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway a letter asking for an update about DOITT’s application plans and how the city would regulate any third party vendors.

“I think the issue is that it’s a very complicated proposal,” she said in an interview. “Who’s the middle man? How much are they going to make? How much is city going to make? Who’s going to get ‘.nyc’? Does Gale Brewer get one?”

Tom Lowenhaupt, who heads, an advocacy organization promoting the use of the .nyc TLD “as infrastructure for organizing and presenting New York’s digital resources,” contends the city is making a fatal misstep by failing to seek public input or support on domain name application. “It would be lunacy to think they would be able to do anything of this sort in a thoughtful manner by then with no public input,” said Lowenhaupt. “And they have to make sure we do it right so they don’t just fizzle and die out like ‘.biz’ and ‘.info’ did after being sold willy nilly.”

What’s at stake, he says, is not just lost revenue but a missed opportunity to build local infrastructure that literally belongs to New Yorkers. Secondary names allocated by neighborhood – for instance, – could become media centers for those communities.

Lamenting the closed-door manner in which City Hall has conducted its .nyc application preparation, he said he “never was a resident of Russia but this is probably how it worked there.”

Brewer, meanwhile, is concerned that other cities could beat New York to establishing a thriving city domain, “which is a huge advantage to have.”

“Paris, Berlin and others are doing the same, so it’s good to be competitive,” she said. “We’ve been pushing this for many years and would like to see it happen.”

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