ICANN Gives Green Light To .中国, .рф, .إمارات , But No Timeline For New Top-Level DomainsPublished on 1 November 2009 @ 2:35 pm
By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch
The board of directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) this week opened up the root zone for non-Latin country-code top level domains (internationalised or IDN ccTLDs). Starting 16 November, ICANN will accept applications for ccTLDs in Chinese, Cyrillic, Japanese, Korean or Arabic characters. In addition to the Chinese ccTLD .cn there will be .中国, in addition to the Russian .ru there will be .рф, and in addition to the United Arab Emirates’ .ae, .إمارات will be possible.
ICANN leadership qualified the step as historic, but also said it was only a first step. In fact, while some 30 ccTLD operators are expected to offer ccTLD names in mid-2010 at the earliest, ICANN also had to admit to another delay for new generic top-level domains in both Latin-based and non-Latin characters due to unresolved issues with regard to intellectual property rights protection and questions about how much change the central root zone can adapt to at once.
The start of the IDN ccTLDs was welcomed by many at the ICANN annual meeting, held in Seoul, South Korea from 26-30 October. Henry Chan from Hong Kong’s ccTLD registry HKIRC and Yumi Ohashi from the Japanese registry JPRS thanked ICANN for their efforts during the public forum and urged it to proceed with a “fast introduction of IDN ccTLDs in the interest of local internet community” in order to make the effort a real “fast-track.”
The ICANN Government Advisory Committee in its Seoul communique welcomed the IDN ccTLD introduction that had been prepared by a working group jointly organised by ICANN’s ccTLD constituency and the GAC. The GAC presented draft principles for the IDN ccTLD administration in Seoul, asserting sovereignty of governments over the ccTLD space, also in the non-Latin scripts.
Pressure to introduce the non-Latin characters on the top level of domain names had grown since 2000. Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in 2008 pushed for the Cyrillic TLD. China and several Arab countries had a number of what they called “test“ zones using their own scripts and all of these were not globally reachable.
With the start of the IDN ccTLDs these activities are expected to come back to the one legacy root zone. ICANN’s new president said, according to the official ICANN press release, that participating countries “are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives.”
Please Fast Track Us, Too!
Yet despite the applause, there also has been criticism to the fast-track privilege for the IDN ccTLDs. Representatives from registrars and companies in non-Latin-script countries said they hoped for a quick opening up for privately ventured, generic TLDs.
Huiming Yu from the China Organization on Name Administration Standard (CONAC) said there is a strong desire from Chinese internet users for IDN gTLDs. “In my opinion, the opening date for application of IDN gTLDs should be made clear as soon as possible,” he said. “We need our fast track process for that, too.” Allowing IDN ccTLD to run first was said to be even a competitive advantage and threat to the private ventures.
A second group not happy with the headstart of their country code colleagues seem to be some of the large existing registries. Steve Del Bianco of NetChoice said that users could be expected to attempt “to go to YouTube.com in Arabic, in Chinese, or Japanese. And it won’t be there. Neither will Google.com or eBay.com or Facebook.com. Because we haven’t provided a plan for that.”
The question of whether .com in its Chinese version will go automatically to VeriSign (the US firm which holds exclusive rights to .com) might result in more debates, though, as China already had at least tested the label for “company” (gongsi) in Chinese over the years. And the fact that the ccTLD operators can market their names first resulted in a competitive advantage for them, while everybody else had to wait.
ICANN expert Milton Mueller drew a critical conclusion from the meeting, summarising: “Now the national monopoly country code registries get to enter the IDN space before anyone else because ICANN wants their political support. In the meantime, hundreds if not thousands of legitimate potential innovators are deferred endlessly, their investors’ money burned, their ideas and dreams stranded.”
No Timeline for Next Step for Accepting .gay, .sport, .berlin
Applicants for new generic TLDs like .gay, .sport, .berlin, .music, .hotel and many more continuously asked for a fixed time line for the general application period after it became clear that ICANN will not be able to keep to the one it committed to during its meeting in Sydney earlier this year. ICANN’s new CEO Rod Beckstrom said in Seoul: “The expectation for specific timeframes is just incompatible with a multi-stakeholder process with multiple appeals, multiple reviews, et cetera.”
The first indication that ICANN is slowing down the process came on Monday, when ICANN Vice President Kurt Pritz revealed that ICANN was planning another, a fourth, iteration of the voluminous Draft Applicant Guidebook (DAG) before the final version. Version three published before the Seoul meeting originally was expected to be followed by the final one.
Pritz said there were still too many issues to address to go directly to the final version. To receive applications beginning in February as foreseen now seems unrealistic. Pritz listed the following questions for further work necessary for the community: concrete mechanisms for mitigating malicious conduct in new gTLDs, trademark and IPR protection, a decision on vertical separation, the finalisation of two more economic studies plus an analysis of the much-debated studies on root scaling.
One of the root scaling studies recommends ICANN slow down on introduction of the new TLDs for stability reasons as the net governance bodies has committed to a quick introduction of a new security mechanisms in the root zone, DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC). As effects of the introduction of DNSSEC – will be fully operational on 1 July next year – are still not completely clear to technical experts, parallel changes to the root zone file would be too great a risk, according to the root scaling study experts.
ICANN Board Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said that the rush on DNSSEC came as a surprise, and with it the question of how many new things the root zone could adapt at the same time. “The issue is not about the ability of the root to handle more TLDs. All the technical advice the board has had about that for years has been, there is no real problem with the addition of large numbers of TLDs to the root.”
But even the capacity of the root to absorb an unlimited number of TLDs now has been drawn into question by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), which focusses on internet standardisation. There is a need, wrote the IAB, to have a policy that would allow “to freeze or halt root zone delegations for new names and possibly revoke existing delegations.”
The GAC criticised the fact that the scaling study came so in late in the process and added it to the list of unresolved problems to be solved before new gTLDs could be introduced.
IPR Protection Roadblock
The GAC also strongly backed concerns of trademark representatives in ICANN. In its communique, the GAC underlined the “need for more effective protection of intellectual property rights.” Some trademark owners constantly have warned of the risk of infringement in new TLDs.
Mark Carvell, assistant director of international communications policy at the UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS), said it was disappointing to now hear from trademark representatives at ICANN “that there appear to be significant deficiencies” in how the proposals of the Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) had been addressed in the third Applicant Guidebook.
“For the UK government, I certainly need some answers as to why the proposal for a Globally Protected Mark List has been dropped,” Carvell said. He also said he expects an explanation from the UK government as to why the Uniform Rapid Suspension System had not been made mandatory. ICANN so far has only taken up a Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure from the IRT report.
Suzanne Sene from the Office of International Affairs at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said comments on the just published third version of the Applicant Guidebook were an “exercise in futility” as the document did not “include all of the protections that that community thinks it needs.”
With regard to malicious conduct, law enforcement officials from the UK and the US demanded ICANN to integrate due diligence, enforcement of the accuracy of Whois contact data for websites, and transparency and accountability in the vetting of registries and registrars. Bobby Flaim from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that law enforcement agencies from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand had prepared due diligence recommendations for ICANN.
ICANN is working on several proposals for malicious content including an optional high security zone programme that would ask for exactly the kind of intensive vetting of new registries, registrars and identification of domain name registrants that the law enforcement agencies and also trademark representatives hope will become mandatory.
Prospective Applicants Demand New Timeline
Prospective ICANN applicants urged ICANN to give them a fixed timeline, even if it would be a new one. US lawyer and ICANN expert Bret Fausett speaking for a prospective applicant said: “There are people who are burning money trying to build businesses on this ICANN platform, and it’s very difficult when you don’t know what the target is. And, you know, if it’s 2011, if it’s 2012, people are going to be really disappointed to hear that, but they’d rather hear that.”
In the midst of a lot of anger, many applicants supported a proposal presented by Mind and Machines, a venture that is preparing a long list of applications from .eco to .golf. “There are a lot of us that would like to criticise ICANN,“ said Jothan Frakes from Minds and Machines. “But, after our initial frustration, many of us have come together to propose a positive and collaborative solution to address the few remaining issues.”
Frakes urged ICANN management to start reviewing incoming TLD applications – and getting a first sense of how many applications there would be – while at the same time finishing the work on the IPR protection measures, root scaling and further economic studies. “In this way,” Frakes said, “we can move forward on issues in parallel. And in this way applicants can go back to their constituents, their stakeholders, communities and investors with positive news.”
Another idea favoured by many community TLD applicants, but also by governments, is a phased approach that would open the zone for “less controversial” TLDs like city TLDs or language community TLDs, for example – representing yet another fast-track.
Monika Ermert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.