A total of 34 multiple listing services representing 503,000 real estate brokers and agents are now backing an effort to create and manage a new "generic" top-level Internet domain, .MLS, that only MLSs would be allowed to use.

That’s up from 18 members in June, when the MLS Domains Association announced it was postponing until next year a planned application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to create and manage the .MLS domain.

When the MLS Domains Association launched in March, its backers were hoping that at least 175 of the nation’s roughly 900 MLSs would sign up by the fourth quarter of 2010.

The nonprofit company needs a broad base of support in order to demonstrate to ICANN that its members represent the industry, and to cover the estimated $185,000 cost of filing an application.

Backers of the idea say creating a .MLS top-level domain and reserving it for MLSs would help consumers distinguish MLSs from third-party listing sites that have claimed many .COM or .NET domain names that incorporate the term "MLS," which can’t be trademarked.

Skeptics — including Cameron Paine, CEO of the Connecticut Multiple Listing Service Inc. — have questioned whether consumers would understand or care that the .MLS top-level domain was reserved for MLSs. Phoenix, Ariz.-based broker Jay Thompson has called the idea "a ridiculous waste of time, money and effort."

Membership in the MLS Domains Association grew slowly at first, even though a number of large MLSs were on board for the launch, including Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service Inc. (ARMLS), Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), Realcomp II Ltd. and TREND MLS.

"We have used the last few months to educate MLSs about our effort, and to help MLS executives lay out the value proposition with their boards of directors," said Bob Bemis, the CEO of ARMLS and chairman of the MLS Domains Association, in a statement. "Unfortunately, many of those boards meet only sporadically in the summer months."

In the last two weeks, the MLS Domains Association has signed up Metrolist and Sandicor in California, South Carolina-based Consolidated MLS, Nebraska-based Great Plains Realtors MLS, and Florida Keys MLS. On its website, the company lists 34 MLS members as of Aug. 10.

"Founder members" who have paid a one-time membership fee of $13,333 have so far put in claims on more than 70 ".MLS" domain names under a "founder claim period" that ends on Aug. 15.

Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED), for example, has claimed ChicagoHomes.mls, ChicagoMetro.mls and ChicagoRentals.mls.

Non-founder MLSs — who pay $500 to become association members if they have fewer than 1,500 subscribers or $1,500 if they have more — will be able to begin claiming .MLS domain names during a "general land rush" period running from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15.

There’s no guarantee that the MLS Domains Association’s application to ICANN to create and manage the .MLS top-level domain will be successful, and member fees are not refundable.

According to ICANN, the application process is "complex and involved," requiring "the coordination and consensus of many groups and factions."

The MLS Domains Association hasn’t submitted an application to ICANN, and the application process can take eight to 19 months depending on the complexity of the issues involved. The association doesn’t expect to obtain approval from ICANN before late 2011.

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