By: Monika Ermert – IP Watch – January 7, 2008

PARIS – The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced the “biggest extension of the DNS

[domain name system] in 40 years” after its decision last week to finish implementation of a new policy for introducing new top-level domains (TLDs).

According to the timeline presented at the ICANN meeting in Paris, new TLDs to compete against the existing .com, .biz or .museum TLDs will be open for application in the second quarter of 2009. If applicants were well prepared they could finalize contractual work with ICANN over the third quarter and start “selling names” by the end of 2009, said Paul Twomey, president and CEO of the private internet governance body.

Comparing the new “round” of TLD additions to the Internet’s underlying root zone to the two earlier rounds in 2000 and 2003, ICANN Board Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said: “Most important is [that] the new process takes out a lot of subjectivity. The applications will not be measured against criteria like for example being a contribution to the internet or to benefit a special group. If the application can meet the do-no-harm-requirement, it can go ahead,” he said. This was a “complete change of attitude.”

In 2000, ICANN selected seven out of 47 applicants for new TLDs and was heavily criticized for turning down so many proposals. In 2003, seven out of 10 so-called sponsored TLDs made it through another round of applications. In Paris, the last of the 2003 applicants, Telnic, announced the progressive start of its new .tel domain: December for privileged trademark owner registration, February for premium price land rush and 24 March for the common internet user. The Telnic example shows that some time and some investment can be necessary to start a new TLD.

Dengate Thrush said he did not expect to see thousands of new TLDs applying, because of costs. ICANN is still calculating application fees, but Twomey said one could expect it to be a lower six-digit figure in US dollars. During the ICANN meeting that was humming with expectations for the DNS extension, the price tag of US$250,000 was repeated by observers as a likely figure. ICANN wants to use the application fee to make up for the investment it made during the application process. Staff already spent $10 million in that process and might spent up to another $10 million.

Much of this goes into the attempt to solve delicate problems ICANN faces in allowing competition. One problem is a procedure to allow anyone to file objections against new TLD proposals on the bases of existing rights of others (like those holding trademarks), confusing similarity, economic concerns or concerns of ethnic communities about a new domain. Governments also reiterated that geographical names, including place names, must be avoided or only be granted in case of endorsement by the respective local authorities.

Internet Technical Body an Authority on Morality?

But the most discussed and criticized reason for an objection clearly is “morality and public order.” This objection criterion would allow any government to veto strings (domains), ICANN director and US law professor Susan Crawford warned before the vote on the new TLD policy. This could undermine ICANN’s mission to act as a private self-regulatory body, she said, by giving such influence to governments. “It’s allowing governments to censor,” Crawford said, adding that the idea of having a private internet governance model was also “to avoid having the domain name system used as a choke-point for content.” Together with her colleague Wendy Seltzer, who acts as liaison of the ICANN At-Large User Community to the board, Crawford asked for clear-cut and narrow rules for the morality objection.

She recommended looking for the few norms of morality that are shared globally, in order to draw a line. “One of them is incitement to violent, lawless action,” she said. “Nobody wants that around the world. A second might be incitement to or promotion of discrimination based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. And the third might be incitement to or promotion of child pornography or other sexual abuse of children.”

“Otherwise,” Crawford added, “the question of morality and public order varies dramatically around the world. It’s a diverse, complicated world out there. And it may not be – it should not be – possible to state that there is a single standard of morality and public order around the world.”

Crawford and Seltzer were joined in their skepticism by the non-governmental organization IP Justice, which said in a press release that the ICANN board had approved a “censorship policy for domain names.”

Dengate Thrush rejected the notion that governments could veto new TLDs. He said ICANN was working on a system to “see these objections off to a professional and internationally acknowledged dispute resolution provider” that would decide on the issues. Dengate Thrush and Twomey pointed to the dispute resolution mechanism for domain name disputes, the Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure (UDRP), as a model. The UDRP is managed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Asked if one could expect governments to bring their objections against a string to an organization like WIPO, they said yes.

Multi-Stakeholder Model Pushed

Many of the other topics of this ICANN meeting did not make headlines the way the new generic TLD procedure did, despite the TLD introduction being one of the tasks for which ICANN was set up in the first place and has been expected for years. One of those other issues, closely related, are new non-Latin-based country-code top level domains. Governments and representatives of the ICANN country-code supporting organization (ccSO) agreed on a fast-track procedure to introduce them alongside the new gTLDs (where also non-Latin TLDs will be possible). For countries where there is an “urgent need,” the fast-track procedure will be put in place until a final procedure has been developed – something that might need another two years, according to ICANN staff.

The fast-track procedure talks between ccSO and governments moreover fueled possible changes in the cooperation model. According to the Paris communiqué of the Government Advisory Committee, “the GAC would like to stress its support for a continuation of the multi-stakeholder approach for the consideration of these matters to date, which has been useful in identifying many of the key issues in the IDNC Working Group report”. The IDNC is a cross-constituency working group devoted to the fast-track non-Latin ccTLD procedure. Instead of “working in silos,” as GAC Chair Janis Karklins of Latvia reported from the discussions of the governments, there was a feeling that issues should be addressed in a “cross-constituency fashion.” Karklins told Intellectual Property Watch that he expected a few more open meetings of the typically closed-door GAC at the next ICANN gathering in Cairo. As there were not many controversial issues on the agenda, in his personal opinion, nearly all of the meeting might be open, excluding the drafting of the communiqué, he said. This would constitute a considerable change and acknowledgement for multi-stakeholder cooperation.

The so-called multi-stakeholder model, which allows cooperation of governments, industry, academics, technical community and non-governmental organizations, was a topic at the recent conference of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development on the “Future of the Internet” (IPW, Internet and Communications Technology, 1 July 2008).

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