ICANN is the body which co-ordinates and sets policy for the global domain name and addressing system for the Internet. It is a unique private sector led initiative, and there have been some battles in the past with the UN’s ITU wanting to take over and have governments set the policy.
Normally when I attend one of these meetings, on behalf of InternetNZ, I am dealing with country code issues. What that means is discussions between all those who set policy for and manage registries of country code domain names such as .uk, .nz, .au, .aq etc.
This time I am here in a slightly different role. InternetNZ is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Regional At Large Organisation (I am signing the deed of incorportation today) which aims to represent all users on issues dealt with by ICANN. Many of these tend to be issues around generic domain names such as .com, .org, .info, .asia.
These meetings are not one big meeting, but a series of meetings – the full schedule is here. Over the last four days I’ve attended over a dozen meetings. Some are dealing with process, and some with policy. I though I’d highlight two current policy issues to give people an idea of what we try to resolve at these meetings.
I blogged on the 4th of Feb about domain name tasting. This is where people use the five day grace period (during which you can cancel a .com domain name without paying for it) to register say a million names, see which ones gain enough money off Google Ads to keep, and then cancel 999,000 of them. Now the five day grace period was intended for accidental registrations, not this.
The effects are very anti-registrant as many names get locked up indefinitely as one person after another registers it for the five day period, cancels it, and then someone else does the same. So you get less choice of names, and greater costs due to registries only being paid for 0.1% of the registrations made.
Now these is widespread agreement the practice should be stopped, but there is disagreement on how to do it. Many, like myself, just want the five day grace period abolished. It has almost no public policy virtue, and just leads to massive gaming.
Others though say the registries and registrars will not agree to this, as they like having the grace period for certain business practices, and suggest instead a ratio be set – something like cancellations can not exceed 10% of registrations for a registrar.
So we have a debate about whether to got for the optimal solution, which might be harder to achieve, or whether to go for a solution which will fix 99% of the current problems, is more achievable, but may cause issues in future.
Now remember these decisions have big financial consequences. The domain name industry is easily multi-billion. There are now 150 million domain name and if teh average retail value is US$35 then that alone is US$5 billion a year bfoer you even look at flow on effects. So if you make a decision that does not follow good process, or is discriminatory, you will get lawsuits. Big lawsuits.
The other issue is that of internationalised domain names. This is about letting people register domain names in their native languages or scripts, rather than just in ASCII characters. Now in many top level domains you can now use IDNs, so for example one could have a domain name of bücher.ch. Or in mandarin you could have 官話.cn.
But do you see the problem? The top level domain is still in ASCII. It means people can’t have their entire domain name in their native language (and this is desirable for a global resource). So the answer is one sets up some new top level domains, which use an IDN. So then one might have a domain name of méx.méxico for example.
But here the policy issues get interesting. There is a fast track procedure planned for countries to be able to get an IDN TLD. But questions to be resolved are:
- Should each country just be limited to one IDN TLD initially, or more?
- Should the number of IDN TLDs per country be limited to the number of official languages? Who decides what is official?
- Who will run the new IDN TLD? Will it be the existing ccTLD Manager or someone else?
- Should the IDN TLD be an abbreviation (like all current country codes are) or can they be names in full?
India has 12 official languages so they want 12 IDN TLDs. Sri Lanka has said that if they have only one IDN TLD they would choose to have none, as it would cause ethnic conflict to choose one language ahead of another to get an IDN established.
Now one might say let every country have whatever they want. Well, that’s a legitimate viewpoint. But also remember that there are generic top level domain registries who also want to apply for IDN TLDs. They get very unhappy if country code managers get an unlimited number of new TLDs, shutting them out of the market.
Now none of these issues are unsolvable with goodwill, and there is a lot of that. But with so many competing interests, it can be complex.
Some may think issues like IDNs are very academic and not particularly important. Well to English users, no they are not. But let me tell you that the desire to be able to have domain names in their native language and scripts is something which many Governments are pushing for, at the highest levels. Heads of Government and Ministers write in demanding quicker action. If they don’t get that action, then they start to think hey maybe someone else should be in charge of the Internet’s naming and addressing systems. So the balancing of interests is always very interesting.