ICANN (But U Can’t, Yet)
Starting spring of 2010, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will begin taking applications for additional generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) that could see an expansion of up to 500 new domain suffixes (such as: .food, .drink, .books, etc.). So what are the implications for established online brands, Internet Governance, and Cyber-crime?
For one thing, an expanded set of gTLDs has long been positioned by ICANN as something that “will allow for more innovation, choice and change to the Internet’s addressing system”. This is well in line with ICANN’s founding principle to promote competition whilst ensuring security and stability. Also the expansion programme is being undertaken only after lengthy and on-going consultations with the numerous communities of stakeholders across the global Internet Community, (apparently the new gTLDs can be up to 63 characters in length, and will provide support for Chinese, Arabic and other characters), thus opening up the field more fully to a global audience. Furthermore, several organisations have apparently announced plans to apply for the new gTLDs. So what’s the controversy you might ask?
Well, according to this article, there still several issues / criticisms to be addressed by ICANN e.g.:
- What protection exists for trademarks and intellectual property (i.e. protecting brands from phishing and cyber squatting)?
- Whether registrars can operate new gTLD registries (thereby overturning the previous ICANN requirement to separate the two entities / activities)
- How will community and geography-based gTLDs be evaluated (i.e. who will oversee the criteria and validity of applications for geographically-based gTLDs)
- The fast tracking of foreign language domains (e.g. for new language character support);
- How will this impact the domain naming market overall (who will win / lose in the new gTLD landscape)?
- At some $185,000 per new gTLD, this won’t be cheap and ICANN faces criticism over the fees it plans to charge new gTLD applicants (i.e. if only rich organisations can afford a new gTLD, then how does this cater for poorer but equally legitimate applicants)?
- Finally, according to an analysis piece in the Financial Times, there is ongoing tug-of-war over if and when ICANN should transfer full accountability for its operations to an international body
In summary, although there are still lots of issues / questions / criticisms to be addressed, the overarching goal of providing more choice, innovation and wider reach for the gTLD namespace is both laudable and to be encouraged. However, it must be done in a controlled manner in order to avoid any unintended consequences that could lead to irreparable fragmentation in the global Internet naming and addressing system.