As ICANN processes applications for new top level domains, four applicants are in the running for the .RADIO TLD.

We recently reported that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) received 1,930 applications for new top level domains (TLDs) – including dozens of applications for broadcast- and media-related applications including .MEDIA, .MUSIC and .VIDEO.

But the four applicants for .RADIO caught our eye. They seek to offer services to radio broadcasters around the world, and may well change the way radio broadcasters operate, both on the Internet and offline. Their applications merited a closer look.  

Before diving in, we need to define a number of terms that are central to the TLD system.

First, “Registry”. In ICANN parlance, a registry is an entity which, under contract to ICANN, provides the authoritative master database of a single TLD and manages all “second-level” domain names registered within that TLD. Example: “.COM” is a TLD, and “FHHLAW.COM” is a second-level domain name registered with the “.COM” TLD.  Verisign is the Registry for .COM. Registries may not generally sell directly to the public. Each of the four .RADIO applicants is seeking to be the registry of .RADIO.

Next, “Registrar”. A registrar is an entity accredited by ICANN and under contract to a Registry.  The registrar adds, deletes, updates and transfers second-level domain names. Registrars are the “salesmen” of domain names. GoDaddy is the largest registrar in the world.

When it comes to new TLD applications, there are two types:

A “community-based designation” application, in which the applicant promises to operate its proposed new TLD for the benefit of a “clearly designated community”; and

 A standard application. Successful “standard” applicants may use the new TLD in any manner consistent with general requirements and criteria, but are not otherwise constrained in the way that successful “community-based designation” registries will be.

The four applicants seeking to be registries of .RADIO are BRS Media (BRS), Affilias Limited (Afilias) and Tin Dale, LLC (Tin Dale) – each of which submitted “standard” applications –  and Eurovision Broadcasting Union (EBU) – which seeks special status as a “community-based designation.”  Let’s take a look at each.

BRS, a “media e-commerce company”, based in San Francisco,  is owned and operated by George Bundy. In 1998, when the Internet was young, Bundy and BRS embarked on an innovative plan to affiliate with two country codes, the Federated States of Micronesia (assigned .FM as its country code) and Armenia (assigned .AM). With permission of those countries, BRS began offering .AM and .FM domain names and email addresses to broadcasters. Now BRS wants to add .RADIO to its portfolio. Inc. magazine website lists BRS as one of the “5,000 fastest-growing private companies” in the U.S.

Afilias is a well-known TLD operator and service provider in the Internet Community. Incorporated in Dublin, it runs a large office in Philadelphia and has operations in Toronto and New Delhi. Afilias is the registry of the .INFO and .MOBI top level domains. It also provides “back-end services” to enable the technical operations of other TLDs (.ORG, .ASIA, .AERO (for airline and aviation)) and some country codes (e.g., .MN (Mongolia), .AG (Antigua and Barbuda) and .BZ (Belize)). Directly or through affiliates, Afilias has applied for 31 new top level domains, including .BLOG, .WEB and .POKER, along with .RADIO.

Tin Dale is an affiliate of Donuts, Inc., and named for one of the company’s founders, Richard Tindal. Donuts, a 2010 Delaware corporation, lists its offices as Bellevue, Washington, and was founded by leaders of the Registrar community (entities, such as eNom, which sell domain names). Donuts raised $100 million in venture capital and applied for a whopping 307 TLDs, including .SHOP, .COMPUTER AND .FILM, in addition to .RADIO.

European Broadcasting Union (EBU) describes itself as a “well-known professional association of national broadcasters that negotiates and advocates for interests of public broadcasters in Europe.” Created in 1950 and based in Switzerland, it is chartered as a not-for-profit association and an international non-governmental organization. It is also one of 700+ “sector members” of the International Telecommunications Union, which advise the ITU on technical standards.

In its application, each applicant is required to describe the mission and purpose of the proposed TLD as envisioned by the applicant.  On that point the various applicants’ respective proposed uses of .RADIO have a similar ring:

BRS would “provide all those interested, worldwide, in disseminating or seeking information, whether non-commercial or commercial, issues, news, culture, lifestyle, entertainment, sports or any other topic with a convenient & recognizable domain name that associate them and/or their information with On Air & Online (net) Radio.”

 Afilias proposes “an Internet space which will become the easily recognizable gathering place for existing and planned radio stations and podcasters to create trusted and easily accessible online content, and ease of access for people searching for specific topics or radio formats.”

According to Tin Dale, the .RADIO TLD would be “attractive and useful to end-users as it better facilitates search, self-expression, information sharing and the provision of legitimate goods and services. . . . This TLD is a generic term and its second level names will be attractive to a variety of Internet users.”

EBU would operate .RADIO “on behalf of the global Radio community, in order to provide it with a trusted and secure name space to facilitate its transformation into the next generation radio industry.”

Despite any similarities, though, the offering of the domain names – a process ICANN calls the “roll-out” –  would be quite different, depending on which of the four applicants prevails. Afilias, Tin Dale, and BRS all propose “open registrations” which would allow any company, organization or individual to register its second-level domains within .RADIO, for a fee. The EBU application, by contrast, promises a much more restrictive registration policy. Its initial registration period would be limited to existing broadcasters, trademark owners and others already engaged in “radio”-related activities. Specifically, EBU will consider the “radio community” to be:

1. Broadcasters’ Unions

2. Licensed Radio Broadcasters

             2.1 International Broadcasters

             2.2 National Broadcasters

             2.3 Regional Broadcasters

             2.4 Local Broadcasters

             2.5 Community Broadcasters

3. Trademarks

3.1 Trademarks used for radio related activities for example companies providing specific services, equipment, radio programmes, etc.

3.2 Defensive registrations by non-eligible applicants

4. Internet radio

5. Licensed amateur radios and clubs

6. Radio professionals

7. Above categories for expanded name selection when not protected by trademarks.

Who will ICANN award the .RADIO TLD to?  

In most TLD contests, ICANN’s policies provide for an auction. However, the .RADIO situation is different. As noted, EBU opted for a “community-based designation” to represent and serve the worldwide community of radio broadcasters. This choice exposes EBU’s application to close scrutiny by ICANN’s special evaluation panel, but offers potentially high rewards. If EBU’s application survives that scrutiny, its community application will take priority over other competing applications. No auction – .RADIO will be awarded to EBU.

But while EBU will allow US broadcasters to register in the .RADIO top level domain, is the EBU — and the governance it will be bring to .RADIO domain names and policies — truly serving, and representative of, the worldwide broadcasting community? According to ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, a community-based applicant must “substantiate its status as representative of the community it names in the application by submission of written endorsements in support of the application”. All of EBU’s members submitted letters of support, as did the Association for International Broadcasting and other international groups. But interestingly, the National Association of Broadcasters did not send a letter of endorsement and is not listed as supporting the application.

This absence raises questions. Is EBU the best representative of the U.S. broadcasting community? Will EBU serve U.S. and world broadcasters fairly and equally? These are key questions for U.S. broadcasters to be asking as soon as possible – and sharing their answers promptly with ICANN.