Now that there are a plethora of new top-level Internet domains -- including .attorney, .dentist, .plumbing, etc. – associated with particular professions or other specific things, certain communities are supposed to have a leg up in winning the rights to manage related domains. But it hasn’t been that simple.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has special provisions for so-called community-based applicants to operate their own top-level domains. The trouble is, it isn’t as easy as you might think for a community to meet all of ICANN’s criteria.

A case in point: CPA Australia Ltd. submitted a community application to operate the .cpa domain as prized new Internet real estate for certified public accountants. The group bills itself as “one of the world’s largest accounting bodies” with more than 150,000 members in 120 countries. But that wasn’t good enough for ICANN.

CPA Australia passed three of ICANN’s four tests with flying colors, earning top marks for community establishment, proposed registration policies and community endorsement.  But it failed its community priority evaluation because ICANN said it didn’t establish enough of a community connection to the .cpa domain. 

The evaluators focused on geographic scope. CPA Australia represents 150,000 Australian-educated certified public accountants, but the evaluators said the term CPA is much broader – citing 650,000 otherCPAs in the U.S. alone. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants similarly lost a community bid on the same grounds, with the evaluators citing the non-represented Australian CPAs.  ICANN also refused to credit a letter from the AICPA saying it would jointly operate .cpa with CPA Australia.

CPA Australia requested reconsideration of its evaluation Sept. 18, arguing that ICANN has been inconsistent in applying the nexus criteria. In an evaluation for .art, the evaluators focused on all community members matching the string rather than the string representing the whole community, it said. And a community definition for .spa was both over-inclusive, because the string extended beyond the defined community, and under-inclusive, because the uses of the word “spa” were not represented. Yet the .spa applicant, Asia Spa & Wellness Promotional Council Ltd.,earned full marks for establishing a community nexus to the domain name.

Unless all the world’s accountants or plumbers or cat-lovers can band together to start bidding for these new top-level domains, ICANN might have to rethink the meaning of the word community.