The fight for Virtual Space intensifies

The Internet community is in a frenzy and tension is mounting as the on-going fight for virtual space continues. Our domain expert, Kelly Salter, attended the most important Internet conference of the year, ICANN 45 Toronto, and we have the inside story for you.

When ICANN announced the decision to add new domain name extensions into the Internet by opening their new gTLD programme, the world was told to expect an Internet revolution, but after this latest conference, we’re not expecting the revolution anytime soon!

As you may or may not be aware, ICANN’s (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) new gTLD programme enabled entities all over the world to apply for new generic Top-Level Domains(gTLD’s). Currently there are only 22 gTLD’s, which include familiar domains such as .com, .org and .net. The new programme means the creation of thousands of new domains, including regional suffixes, generic words and brand names. ICANN announced new gTLD’s will be released between April and June 2013, but before this can happen, they have an uphill battle on their hands.

Unsurprisingly, the main focus of the conference was the new gTLD programme. Since its inception it has caused unrest amongst consumer associations, governments, registrars and Internet users. Here are the top three reasons why:

 Exclusivity

Critics believe ICANN had not prepared before the application process began, for the twist that giant companies such as Amazon, L’Oréal and Google, took on the new programme. These large entities have applied for the exclusive use of generic extensions such as .blog, .buy, .beauty etc. and there is now public outcry as the possibility of a monopolised Internet becomes a reality. If ICANN grants large brands the exclusive use of generic terms or ‘strings’, it will mean registration of these domain names will be closed to the public and to their competitors. So, in the future, if you or I wanted to set up a website and call it ‘my.blog’ or ‘my.beauty’, we wouldn’t be able to if it were privately owned and ‘closed’ to all of us.

Big concerns were raised regarding this area of exclusivity at the conference. The World Health Organisation (WHO) asked for an audience with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) who play a key role in providing advice to ICANN on issues of public policy. They requested that GAC issue an early warning for the extension .health as they have serious concerns. They plan to carry out consultations with the health community as they believe .health is an extension that should have strong registration and usage restrictions.

Protection

Protection of specific names and acronyms is another hot topic and there are currently no established criteria to guide what must be protected. International Governmental Organisations (IGO’s) such as the Red Cross and IOC (International Olympic Committee) have been vocal in their arguments that their names and acronyms deserve special protection in accordance with international laws created to serve the public. During the course of ICANN 45 it was discussed as to whether all recognised IGO’s should be subject to special protection in the domain name world. If these special permissions are granted there may be further problems deciding how to deal with existing domains in extensions such as .com or .org that have already been registered by third parties. If those domains are taken away, what will be next? The complexity of the issue gets deeper and deeper!

Fairness

ICANN had to find a fair way to choose which new gTLD’s should be released first. After the failure of digital archery, they have finally agreed the fairest way would be a lottery system and now, they are waiting to be granted a lottery license in the United States so even that’s not in the bag yet!

They have confirmed that IDN’s (domain names that contain language characters such as accents not used in the English language) will be released first. We believe geographic domain name extensions that have the support of the relevant governments will also soon be considered as priority applications. So, next year if all goes to plan, you may be able to set up a website with the name of the place you live e.g.  ‘me.irish’, ‘me.wales’.

If the lottery goes ahead it will be held in December. After paying $185,000 to apply, the participants will also have to pay $100 for a ticket if they want to enter the priority draw and they will need to purchase their ticket either in person or through an in-person representative. In the event ICANN don’t get a lottery license, the contingency plan is to hold a form of contest. However as ICANN expects the license for conducting the draw as late as November, any problems could affect the release date of the first new gTLD’s.

When will we know more?

The GAC assure all interested parties they are considering whether the existing mechanisms provided in The Applicant Guidebook are sufficient to address the identified issues. They are considering a range of specific issues such as consumer protection, strings that are linked to market sectors such as health, financial and charity, competition issues, strings that have broad or multiple uses and where one entity is seeking exclusive use, protection of geographic terms, intellectual property rights, religious terms and the relationship between new gTLD applications and all applicable legislation. Wow, they have a lot to review!

The GAC intends to issue a list of early warnings on November 20th 2012. They also plan to finalise GAC advice on new gTLD applications following the ICANN Beijing meeting in April 2013. So, with questions still surrounding many areas and so many decisions yet to be made, we are predicting the roll out of new gTLD’s won’t start when planned and by the time they do start, the playing field will look a lot different.

As the Internet world awaits revolution, we are waiting to see what the next bump in the road for ICANN will be!

Read more about the new gTLD programme. http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/about

Read more about what GAC are considering. http://www.icann.org/en/node/1158155

Photo of our domain expert, Kelly Salter, at the conference.  Photo taken by Icannphotos, October 16th 2012

 

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