Who runs the internet?
March 17th, 2011
09:52 AM ET

Who runs the internet?

Editor's Note: Nao Matsukata is senior policy adviser to the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA) and to Alston & Bird, LLP.

By Nao Matsukata – Special to CNN

Decisions made this week in the meeting rooms of a San Francisco hotel could dramatically change how the world experiences the internet.

Few of us realize that many important decisions about Web policy and governance are under the control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit located in California.

What gives this organization the right to determine so much about internet policy and regulation?  Who is it accountable to, and who empowered it in the first place?

ICANN was created in 1998 by the Clinton administration to take the reins of internet regulation from the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Products Agency and Jon Postel, a professor who was single-handedly keeping track of all internet addresses from his office at the University of Southern California.

Today, for all practical purposes, ICANN serves as the governing agency of the Web.  And if ICANN has its way this week, internet users will soon be navigating through a substantially more complex and treacherous internet.

In a dramatic change of internet policy, ICANN has proposed to approve and implement the rollout of more than 400 new top-level domains within the next few months. Top-level domains are what you see to the right of the dot, such as “com” or “org.”

Right now, there are 21 top-level domains. If ICANN’s new policy is implemented, we will see top-level domains such as .car, .newyorkcity, .hotels and hundreds more. Internet real estate will grow exponentially, creating a more complex experience for every user.

ICANN’s board justifies this decision by citing the need for greater competition in the domain-name marketplace.  ICANN argues that expanding the top-level domain space will encourage greater innovation and choice on the internet.

Those in the business of making money by selling domain names agree, and, unfortunately, they have inserted themselves into ICANN’s policy-making process. For example, the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) in ICANN's multistakeholder operational model is responsible for introducing and developing the top-level domain policy at hand. The GNSO, however, is largely composed of the same registries and registrars that stand to gain financially by the proposed massive introduction of new top-level domains.

This new policy will have great social, economic and security costs.  If these new top-level domains are introduced, opportunities for cybercrime and fraud would be increased substantially.

If you are a consumer attempting to set up a checking account online, and you have to decide which website to give your personal information to – citi.bank, bank.citi, citi.com, citi.bankaccount or even citichecking.bankaccount – how would you determine which are trusted sites providing accurate information? How would you determine which are fraudulent sites actively misinforming the public?

A massive introduction of top-level domains will overwhelm the existing framework for combating cybercrime, putting millions of internet users at unnecessary risk.

In addition, consumers will be forced to take extensive measures to protect themselves from fraud and other malicious activities on the internet.  They may grow wary of conducting online transactions. And companies will have to pay more to protect their trademarks.

Perhaps most dangerously, our national security might be further compromised as a vastly expanded internet increases places for terrorists and criminals to hide in cyberspace.

At the time of ICANN’s conception in the late 1990s, few anticipated the economic value of domain names or imagined a company, like today’s ubiquitous GoDaddy, that would capitalize on that value.

ICANN’s original mission – as a domain name regulator with a policy-making process inclusive of all internet users – was well-intentioned, but it has been polluted by constituents primarily concerned with financial gain, leaving the rest of us bearing the cost.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Nao Matsukata.

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Topics: Internet • Security • Technology

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Robert I. Eachus

    I have to decide whether to laugh or cry, and I can't. I won't go into how DNS works and how DNS servers can be set up to authenticate domains, that is in the noise. IPv6 is replacing IPv4 and some ISPs will give you an IPv6 permanent address if you ask. Rather than increase the number of available addresses to 4 billion times as many as there are now, IPv6 has an unimaginable number of addresses. Structuring DNS servers to access all those new addresses and map them to names (or vice versa) is what this proposal is really all about. New TLDs (top level domains) can be given a subset of the numerical name space, so for example, 12345:678:: can map to .bank.

    So adding lots of new TLDs will simplify the job of DNS servers. End of story–or it should be.

    March 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • Louise

      You are persuasive, but is not IPv6 still in its infancy? Is IPv6 not a massive hardware/software upgrade, from IPv4? Wikipedia notes: "Compatibility with IPv6 networking is mainly a software or firmware issue. However, much of the older hardware that could in principle be upgraded is likely to be replaced instead. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) suggests that all Internet servers be prepared to serve IPv6-only clients by January 2012."

      How tall an order is that?

      March 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
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    March 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  3. Raja Malan

    Trade mark & patent register are being servicing successfully from years. Web registry should introduce some of those procedures in granting domain name. This could help web criminals difficult to enter in market place.
    If Internet in future become tome consuming, unreliable source, fraud prone general public will drop using Internet. Even if it currently look inevitable.

    March 20, 2011 at 7:54 am | Reply
  4. M. Menius

    Most obvious is that hundreds of new top level domains are not even needed. This ICANN proposal is not driven by consumer need or what is in the best interest of the Internet, but by a small select group who stand to make their small fortune at the expense of millions of Internet uses and global corporations.

    ICANN should release only a few targeted domains per year. This allows for gradual assimilation into the larger Internet structure without flooding the net with garbage. Hundreds of new domains on the Internet is the equivalent of dumping a bucket of chum into a fishbowl. Many individuals and companies are against unlimited new top level domains.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  5. Kevin

    This article misunderstands (deliberately, I assume) the nature of the GNSO.

    The GNSO is made up of contracted parties (the registries and registrars that Mr Matsukata doesn't like) and non-contracted parties, such as intellectual property interests, ISPs, business interests and non-commercial users.

    Registries and registrars hold about a third of the seats on the GNSO Council.

    For the GNSO to approve a policy, both contracted and non-contracted parties have to vote in favor of it. To suggest registries and registrars have captured the GNSO is therefore disingenuous.

    Matsukata should know this. If he does, this piece is nothing but propaganda. If he doesn't, he's not much of an expert.

    March 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
    • gpmgroup

      Wasn't the GNSO was restructured as a result of the London School of Economics Study & report AFTER the GNSO's proposal for new gTLDs? I seriously doubt a policy like the proposals for unlimited new gTLDs would pass today.

      But thats a flaw of ICANN generally even when there are fundamental process failings along the way there is often no way or will to correct those failings.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Reply
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