ICANN Takes Top-Level Domain Proposals
[Ziff-Davis Wire]

Inter@ctive Week via NewsEdge Corporation : The Internet's oversight body has quietly changed its own rules to give European leaders a new top-level domain. The move has raised questions about the group's objectivity and motives as it considers applications from companies that have shelled out nearly $2.5 million in nonrefundable fees, hoping to offer the first competing domains to .com, .net and .org.

A total of 47 proposals have been made by companies and groups that sent $50,000 each to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for a chance to run the new domains. The proposals include .union, .coop and .web.

The final decision on how many and which applicants will win approval rests with ICANN's staff and board, which has often been accused of making closed-door decisions that contradict its stated mission to be an open body acting only on the wishes of its international membership.

The latest move came in a special, closed meeting on Sept. 25, when ICANN's board quietly issued a resolution allowing the creation of .eu as one of more than 250 country code domains. Previously, country codes, such as .us and .uk., had generally been approved for countries on a special list issued by the International Organization for Standardization, a nongovernmental group that sets standards for trade, scientific, technological and other activities.

Although the European Union is not on that list - .eu is on a special reserved list - it has been pushing ICANN for nearly a year to change the rules and grant it a special top-level domain (TLD).

Earlier this year, ICANN President Mike Roberts said such a move would not be made without first establishing a new policy for country code domains.

The .eu decision, however, came without public notice or a chance for ICANN stakeholders to officially comment, as the group's bylaws require in advance of any policy decisions.

ICANN critic Judith Oppenheimer, an analyst specializing in toll-free telecommunications, took issue with "ICANN's lack of transparency" in making the move, though she has no problem with a .eu designation.

Roberts said the board did not believe it was making a major policy decision that required public comment under its rules.

While such a move may have little effect on the broader Internet community, it underscores lingering concerns about how ICANN conducts its business and how it will choose new TLDs.

The stakes are high. ICANN officials have indicated they will choose only a handful of TLDs, but applicants granted a new domain could reap a windfall if Internet users rush to grab popular words.

ICANN has set an ambitious timetable. It will post the applications for public comment from Oct. 9 to Oct. 27, shortly after which the staff will publish its recommendations to the ICANN board. Roberts said about a dozen people, including outside consultants, would help evaluate the applications, and winners will be announced on Nov. 20.

Number limited

In August, ICANN released broad criteria that included limiting the number of new domains to ensure a smooth introduction of new names and stability of the Internet.

"Because it's a test of the concept, it's specifically limited," said ICANN Chairwoman Esther Dyson.

But some critics see the Internet stability argument as a red herring. ICANN's real motivation, they said, is that powerful intellectual property holders are concerned about having to police a large number of new domains.

A. Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, said that picking winning applicants exceeded ICANN's charter as a technical administrator, and entered the realm of "social policy choices."

Most of the proposed new top domain names are business-oriented, which some critics said is a result of charging a $50,000 application fee. Among the few noncommercial proposals were .union, proposed by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and .health from the World Health Organization.

"We think that a number of civil society groups that would have made proposals were prevented from doing so by the application fee," said Duncan Pruett, the ICFTU's information technology coordinator.

Perhaps the strongest application has come from a group of 20 registrars, including Network Solutions Inc. and Register.com. The consortium known as Afilias has proposed three new TLDs: .info, .site and .web. The group will likely please trademark interests with its proposal for a 60-day period prior to the public launch of its new TLD, during which trademark interests can register names.

<<Inter@ctive Week -- 10-09-00>>


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