9.6 New Top-Level Domains

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Since the start in 1995 of charging for domain names, most of the policy debates and proposals for institutional change were motivated by attempts to create new top-level domains. The newdom email list, draft-postel, the gTLD-MoU, AlterNIC, Name.Space, and other alternative root server systems all attempted to provide an alternative to .com and to let new registries into the market. Not surprisingly, given the political coalition that had created ICANN, that objective was considered significantly less urgent than the problem of regulating the existing generic top-level domains to protect trademarks and create business opportunities for registrars. It took ICANN nearly three years to authorize new top-level domains and make them operational. When it did finally create them, it fostered an environment of artificial scarcity designed to maximize barriers to entry and enable close regulation of the new registries. Moreover, its choices of new registries overtly rewarded incumbent stakeholders and supporters of ICANN.

The authorization of new top-level domains was the only major policy decision in the initial regime formation period that actually followed the bottom-up procedures originally envisioned for ICANN. An open working group (WG-C) devoted to new top-level domains was created in July 1999, shortly after the formation of the DNSO. During seven months of fractious debate on the group's email list, the intellectual property and business interests advocated creating only one or two new domains in the first round, whereas others called for up to 500. The working group reported its 'consensus position' to the Names Council in March 2000: ICANN should begin with an initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs, followed by an evaluation period. The group also suggested that the new TLD strings should be defined by prospective registries rather than selected by ICANN and assigned to operators. A month later, the DNSO's Names Council forwarded a resolution to the ICANN board recommending the introduction of new TLDs 'in a measured and responsible manner.' [29 ]The ICANN board agreed to create new top-level domains at its July 2000 meeting in Yokohama, Japan, and called upon its staff to define an application process and criteria.

The severe political constraints operating on ICANN inexorably pushed it into a form of merit assignment, a 'beauty contest' that selects for applicants who are well-connected, large, well-established, familiar, and unthreatening. The guidelines called for a 'thoroughly formulated plan' requiring the assistance of 'technical experts, financial and management consultants, and lawyers.' [30 ]Applicants had to pay a US$50,000 nonrefundable fee to be considered. The application process was framed as an experiment or 'proof of concept,' as if adding a new top-level domain to the root (something that had happened routinely during the evolution of the DNS) was a step into unknown territory. The staff-prepared guidelines also contained numerous criteria that bordered on policy decisions. They barred from consideration any applicant involved with an alternative root system. Applications had to explain at length the procedures that would be used to protect trademark rights. Despite these hurdles, ICANN received 47 applications requesting nearly 200 new TLD strings by the October 2 deadline. The application fees alone totaled US$2.5 million, enlarging ICANN's total budget by 50 percent.

The ICANN board selected seven winners on November 16, 2000 (table 9.2). Prodded by its management and staff, the corporation amended its bylaws in order to exclude the five newly elected at-large board members from being able to participate in the selections. The winners were all established, politically connected insiders. Of the seven new top-level domains awarded by ICANN, the four most commercially desirable assignments-. biz, .info, .pro, and .name -were backed by companies that either had already established dominant positions in the ICANN-created marketplace for .com, .net and .org registrars, or were major figures in the political coalition that had created ICANN. The Afilias Group, which was awarded the .info domain, was an international consortium of 18 leading ICANN-accredited registrars assembled by Network Solutions, the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE), and Register.com. Collectively, Afilias members already controlled over three-fourths of the registrar market. CORE was also selected as the registry operator for the .museum top-level domain. The winner of the .name top-level domain for personal registrations was a British firm (Nameplanet.com) that had entered into a 'strategic technical partnership' with IBM Corporation for its system infrastructure. The .biz domain was awarded to a joint venture of Melbourne IT and Neustar, the North American Numbering Plan administrator.

Table 9.2: New ICANN Top-Level Domains

Domain Name

Operator(s)

Link to ICANN

.biz

Neustar (.us),

Melbourne IT (.au)

Melbourne IT one of the first five accredited registrars, donated startup money to ICANN, and had strong political ties to GAC and its chair Paul Twomey.

.info

Afilias consortium

Major partners include Network Solutions, CORE, Register.com, Tucows. Partners together account for over 80% of registrar market share.

.pro

Register.com (.us)

Register.com was one of the first five accredited registrars and second-largest registrar after NSI.

.name

Global Name Registry, Ltd. (.uk)

 

.aero

Societe de Int'l Telecommunications Aeronautiques (.fr)

Rosa del Gado, SITA's advocate for the .aero domain, was a longtime Board member of the Internet Society and gTLD-MoU supporter

.coop

National Cooperative Bus. Assn (.us, .uk)

 

.museum

International Council of Museums (.ch)

Uses CORE as registry. Cary Karp, head of Museum Domain Mgmt Assn, was a participant in gTLD-MoU

In making these selections, the ICANN board came into direct contact with two significant policy problems that will likely persist in the new regime. First, it refused to select any of the numerous proposals for TLDs devoted to sex (.sex, .xxx) or children (.kids). There was, in fact, a great deal of popular interest in those domains, and even some demands from politicians to mandate their creation in order to make it easier to segregate Web site content on the Net. ICANN's refusal to recognize the new domains came not so much from the merit of the applicants per se but from the board's fear that licensing such top-level domains would bring it uncomfortably close to the business of content regulation. For example, ICANN did not want to take responsibility, by awarding a .kids top-level domain, for certifying that the content and operators of Web sites in that domain would post child-appropriate material.

Second, ICANN was forced to confront its relationship with the alternative root server systems. The board consciously avoided the longstanding conflict over .web, turning down Imagine Online Design's request for it but also refusing to award the coveted string to the Afilias consortium, which had requested it. The award of .biz also ran afoul of longstanding claims in the alternative root server community. The .biz top-level domain had first been created and operated by Karl Denninger, a newdom participant and one of the early leaders of the alternative root movement. When Denninger withdrew from the business, the top-level domain was claimed in May 2000 by a businesswoman named Leah Gallegos, who managed to gather about 3,000 registrations. The decision to authorize another .biz would either destroy her business or, if it managed to coexist, create name collisions. [31 ]

The establishment of new TLDs was the most significant test of the new institutional regime's capabilities and processes. ICANN's registry contracts are similar in function and intent to broadcasting licenses in the United States, with the exception that the regulation takes place via contract rather than public law.

[29 ]Kieren McCarthy, 'Anarchist Hacker voted onto ICANN Board,' The Register, November 10, 2000, <http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/archive/13899.html>.

[30 ]The Names Council itself was unable to agree on the numbers proposed by the working group. Its resolution called for 'introduction of new gTLDs in a measured and responsible manner, giving due regard in the implementation of that policy to (a) promoting orderly registration of names during the initial phases; (b) minimizing the use of gTLDs to carry out infringements of intellectual property rights; and (c) recognizing the need for ensuring user confidence in the technical operation of the new TLD and the DNS as a whole.'

[31 ]ICANN staff, 'Criteria for assessing TLD proposals,' August 15, 2000, <http://www.icann.org/tlds/tld-criteria-15aug00.htm>.



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Ruling the Root(c) Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace
Ruling the Root: Internet Governance and the Taming of Cyberspace
ISBN: 0262134128
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 110

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