Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Top Level Domains and Healthcare Implications

The Internet is about to get a whole lot bigger...

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) after years of discussion has finally decided to allow new custom generic top-level domains. Applications for the first round will open on January 12, 2012 and will close on April 12, 2012. New gTLD’s should be operational by November 2013.

Top Level Domians (TLDs) with two letters (such as .de, .mx, and .jp) have been established for over 250 countries and external territories and are referred to as "country-code" TLDs or "ccTLDs". They are delegated to designated managers, who operate the ccTLDs according to local policies that are adapted to best meet the economic, cultural, linguistic, and legal circumstances of the country or territory involved. Most TLDs with three or more characters are referred to as "generic" TLDs, or "gTLDs". In the 1980s, seven gTLDs (.com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net, and .org) were created. Domain names may be registered in three of these (.com, .net, and .org) without restriction; the other four have limited purposes. Now there will be waves of new gTLDs available for almost every conceivable purpose.

This could open things up quite a bit as anyone will be able to register virtually any word or phrase in almost any language or script as a gTLD. This could also provide some additional level of security for some industries. As David Talbot said in the MIT Technology Review:
A specialized top-level domain such as .bank might be secured with domain name security called DNS-SEC which verifies that a domain name seen by a user corresponds to the numerical computer address assigned to a bank's servers. This would require an additional vetting process for any company that applied for a .bank domain name. But then users could feel particularly confident that the site they are viewing is legitimate.
While there are concerns that new Top Level Domains could introduce confusion and possible security risks, I still think that there are some potential benefits and the risks could be mitigated. For one thing the $185,000.00 non-refundable cost would be a barrier. I am also confident that ICANN will have strong policies in place and agree that they are making the right move. This will ultimately be a good thing for the Internet.

I and some others have proposed for some time that healthcare would benefit from a gTLD of it's own. At the time Wes Rishel made some good arguments against the idea on his blog, but I have still thought that the idea has merit. As John Halamka points out on his blog the HIT Standards Committee has reconsidered a Top Level Domain for healthcare but it was decided that this may be considered in the future, but there is no need to implement one now. I would say that if there are going to be plans to implement this in the future the time to begin planning is now.


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