A decision last year from the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) makes it possible for cities to apply for their own top-level domain (TLD) extension. The application fee is $185,000, with ongoing costs of $25,000 annually. The approval process can take 18 months, with controls in place to keep branded “dot-city” extensions out of the hands of cybersquatters hoping to profit from a city’s notoriety.
It’s been widely reported that New York City is applying for its own TLD, called “.nyc,” seeing revenue generating potential from reselling sites within that domain to New York City businesses. A joint statement issued March 21 by Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Councilmembers Gale Brewer and Fernando Cabrera explained: “From the bodega down the block to the pizza parlor around the corner, soon every New York City business will have the opportunity to register its own dot-NYC domain.”
But what works for New York City won’t necessarily work for the rest of the country. Experts agree that most U.S. cities simply don’t have a large enough base of potential local customers to support an endeavor of this magnitude.
New York City has at least one built-in advantage. It has contracted with Sterling, Va.-based Neustar, for a five-year period, during which the city is guaranteed at least $3.6 million in revenue. Neustar handles several other top-level domains, including dot-us, dot-biz and dot-co.
“No city government is going to have the cash and the resources to make this happen themselves,” said Kristy Fifelski, founder and CEO of Digital Gov Group, in a recent interview with Government Technology. Fifelski offers additional perspective as the former webmaster for Reno, Nev. “It would be pretty hard to refuse a third party that promises to pay those upfront costs and promises a return in the millions.”
Matt Harrington, a graphic and Web specialist with Albany, Ore., also serves as president of the National Association of Government Webmasters, made up of Web staff from small to medium-sized cities across the country. “In terms of our membership and our demographic, I don't see this being a viable or relevant option for them. I just don't think there's the critical mass in a smaller market to gain traction with a new top-level domain.”
What then is the threshold above which a U.S. city could make a new top-level domain a success? Are other large cities contemplating a new dot-city site of their own?
Vijay Sammeta, acting CIO of San Jose, Calif., recalls early conversations between IT and city marketing staff around the possibility of pursuing a city-branded TLD. With concerns about costs and the viability of yet another domain in the marketplace, officials adopted a wait-and-see approach.
“The average Internet consumer is used to dot-coms, dot-orgs and dot-nets. There have been other TLDs released, but they just aren't really prevalent,” Sammeta told Government Technology.
Marketplace competition offering domains for as little as $10 per year put the onus on cities to generate significant interest in branded domains just to recoup their initial investment.
That said, Sammeta doesn’t dismiss the idea entirely, but rather sees potential for a city-branded top-level domain if the local government backed the effort with marketing dollars. “Cities would have to not just resell the service, but actually take an active lead in marketing those businesses that buy those domain names.”
There seems to be consensus that the likelihood for success increases if the branded city domain is part of a broader city-backed marketing effort, as is the case with New York City.
“All eyes are on New York City right now to see if they will be successful. If they are, then I think other cities may try to model that approach,” Fifelski added. “But they're going to need that local business base to purchase those domains.”
A “dot-la” Web extension long predated the current ICANN rules. Operated by CentralNic Ltd. out of London, the site markets domains with a dot-la extension, billing itself as “the domain for Los Angeles.” While many prominent domains within .la remain available, the company appears to have made some progress within the local market. The site isn’t affiliated with the city of Los Angeles itself.
The long-range viability of the current dot-la domain, however, is unclear. The “la” abbreviation is also the official code for the country of Laos in southeast Asia. Last year, the nation mounted an effort to reclaim the dot-la domain name.