[bc-gnso] RE: A thoughtful piece on new gTLDs

Phil Corwin psc at vlaw-dc.com
Mon Jan 9 16:42:40 UTC 2012

Here's another---


JANUARY 9, 2012
A New Challenge for Web Freedom 

A vast increase of top-level domain names will put the Internet's self-regulating body to a test. 


The Internet is celebrated as a machine that runs by itself, but this is not quite accurate. The Web does have oversight, just not by any multinational organization, national government or regulator. It's run by a small, private, nonprofit institution that is rarely in the news.
This week will be an exception. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known by the acronym Icann, is accepting applications for an infinite number of new Web addresses, known as top-level domain names. In addition to the existing two dozen suffixes, such as .com, .org and .net, Icann will let people apply, for a fee of $185,000, to create whatever suffixes they like, which will be reviewed and go live next year. Expect .hitachi and .paris, for example. Icann is also adding local-language Web names in non-Latin characters such as Chinese and Cyrillic.
Esther Dyson, a technology investor who was the founding chairman of Icann between 1998 and 2000, has led criticism of these new domains, which she says will confuse users and create new expenses for companies. She's right that the immediate beneficiaries will be trademark lawyers fighting over brands and Internet registries and registrars that will add revenue with new domains. 

Ms. Dyson, who at one time supported new domains, told me last week that at this point in the evolution of the Web, "we cannot create competition-we can only create redundancy." She asks, "What's wrong with marriott.com versus marriott.hotels?" She thinks companies will invest defensively to protect brands as Web suffixes even if they never intend to use them. She predicts Google could be the big winner if people have to use search engines to find websites instead of remembering increasingly complex addresses. 

In response to this criticism, Icann CEO Rod Beckstrom says new domains will create more naming options for websites and will support the group's mission of more competition. He gave me the example of a letter he recently got from the chief of the Zulus saying that he would apply for the .zulu suffix for use by members of his tribe, who live across several African countries. The Catalan community in Spain is similarly using the .cat suffix.

Mr. Beckstrom also makes the good point that there is an inherent disconnect between trademarks and domains. The trademark system was designed in the Industrial Age and protects corporate marks only within countries and based on categories of activity. In contrast, Web domains have to be unique globally, a problem that having more domains could help resolve. He says a new Icann clearinghouse for trademarks will ensure that brand holders are protected.
The expansion of Web addresses by Icann has been in the works since 2006, but Washington only recently got involved. The U.S. has no authority over Icann. So it made no difference last month when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) demanded that Icann "drastically limit" the number of new domains, or when Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said this is a "potential disaster" that will result in more online fraud.
Icann has been largely insulated from such politics ever since it was formed as a nonprofit in the late 1990s to take over responsibility from the U.S. government to maintain the operational stability of the Web. Its decision-making approach was defined as a "bottom-up, consensus-driven, democratic manner," which seems to include so many advisory groups-including governments, registries, other nonprofits, companies and network security specialists-that no single interest group dominates.
This controversy over domains is a reminder that the Internet is both the greatest technological advance of our era and also the greatest example of a self-regulating industry. Ms. Dyson is a critic of the decision to add domains, but she embraces the limited power of Icann to keep the Web functioning smoothly without having broader authority such as to take down websites. 

"Not having the power is liberating," says Ms. Dyson, who warns against Web oversight by governments or groups of governments. When asked about lobbying by the United Nations for control over the Web as an alternative to Icann, Ms. Dyson correctly calls this a "fate worse than death" and quotes this warning from a poem by British poet Hilaire Belloc: "Always keep a-hold of Nurse / For fear of finding something worse."
If the new domains become a gold mine for trademark lawyers, Icann has reserved the right to narrow the number of new domains it accepts, but this is an issue for Icann alone to resolve. 

The broader lesson is the tribute to Icann that this relatively low-key controversy over domains is the institution's most divisive issue in years. Icann proves that a self-regulating body can do its job, if it has limited powers and isn't burdened by political agendas-even and especially-if it oversees something as complex, global and valuable as the Internet.

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Philip S. Corwin, Founding Principal
Virtualaw LLC
1155 F Street, NW
Suite 1050
Washington, DC 20004
"Luck is the residue of design" -- Branch Rickey

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-bc-gnso at icann.org [mailto:owner-bc-gnso at icann.org] On Behalf Of Smith, Bill
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 9:13 AM
To: bc - GNSO list
Subject: [bc-gnso] A thoughtful piece on new gTLDs


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