ICANN Could Pre-Register TLDs To Placate Critics

NetworksRegulation

ICANN has moved on non-Latin characters, but delays in its new top-level domains could force it to start pre-registration

Ongoing delays in the introduction of new top level domain names (TLDs) could lead to the introduction of a pre-registration process, according to the internet regulating body ICANN.

Earlier this week ICANN held a meeting in Korea to discuss new TLDs. Although a move to extend Internet domains with the use of non-Roman characters has been moving forwards, a parallel process to allow more top-level domains has been encountering delays and frustration.

ICANN has proposed extending the Internet’s domain systems beyond the current limited number of top-level domains (the highest domain in an address after the dot, such as dot-com). The proposal would essentially allow “dot-anything”, but issues of root scaling, cybersquatting and trademark infringement have all caused multiple delays in the implementation process.

Despite an original plan to make the new gTLDs available next year, the prospect of delays caused criticism at the Korea meeting. By introducing a pre-application process, ICANN will be able to establish a clearer idea about the potential uptake of new TLDs and construct clear guidelines on rights protection. During a public forum on the issue, Minds and Machines’ COO Jothan Frakes said that he was working to introduce such a plan in the next few weeks.

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“We have some ideas whereby an applicant can pay a fee and begin the review of information,” he explained. “In this way applicants can go back to their constituents, their stakeholders, communities and investors with positive news, while ICANN staff will gain information about the universe of applicants who will be bringing discussions about public morality, root scaling, rights protection, and other matters out of the theoretical and into the practical realm.”

Another argument for the introduction of a pre-registration system is that it is an opportunity to get get the ball rolling on issues that may take some time to resolve. “The fact is, there are several bureaucratic stages in the application process that could be started earlier,” said COO of domain registrar Gandi.net, Joe White. “For example, if two people wanted to operate ‘.music’, the process to settle their competing applications could begin soon, rather than waiting for the other more technical and legal pieces from ICANN to be complete.”

The news follows the recent announcement that ICANN is accelerating its move towards a multilateral strategy, by opening up the domain name system to non-Latin characters. While both these strategies promise to broaden the scope of the internet and move it away from a US-centric domain structure, there is some suggestion that the introduction of an unlimited number of domains will create an overwhelming amount of cyber-clutter.

White predicts that a pre-application process will help to temper ISP’s fears by giving them the opportunity to gage public reaction. “Consumers will start to form opinions on whether they trust the new TLDs any more, whether they see any value in them, and whether it’s really as exciting as ICANN thinks it will be,” he said.

However, ICANN’s focus on its introduction of non-Latin characters could also be an attempt to divert attention away from its delay in introducing new TLDs, which has led to mounting concern among new TLD applicants.

“We’re aware that delay favours incumbents. We’re aware that delay is costly and may, in fact, deprive us, if it goes on for much longer, of the very innovation that this project was intended to help stimulate,” admitted ICANN Chairman Peter Dengate-Thrush. “On the other hand, delay is caused by the fact that we have to do this very carefully… This is a balancing exercise for the board. There’s no intention to delay. We just have to make sure we do it properly.”


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