Editor's Note: Nao Matsukata is a Managing Partner at Six Trees Partners, LLC, and Josh Bourne is the President of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA).
By Nao Matsukata and Josh Bourne – Special to CNN
What’s in a domain name? What’s in it for the everyday user of the Internet? O
n January 12, 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names Numbers (ICANN) – the organization charged with managing the domain name system – will implement a policy that will infinitely expand Internet real estate, making it more confusing and creating more opportunities for fraud and threats to national security.
Beginning this Thursday, ICANN will open an application process that may inspire, according to Internet experts, anywhere between 500 and 1,000 applications for new generic top-level domains, or gTLDs. These are the extensions that appear to the right of the “dot” in web addresses. Currently, there are 22 gTLDs; the ones of most us know are .COM, .GOV, or .ORG.
ICANN, the primary advocate for new gTLDs, and other supporters of the policy believe that this expansion will bring aboutinnovation and spur economic activity. Scott Pinzon, ICANN’s Director of Marketing and Outreach, has written that “New gTLDs represent a platform for innovation. No one can predict what smart people will do with them. Lots of new business models will be invented. Some will work. Some won’t. But given the fountain of innovation and public benefit that has poured from the Internet over the last 20 years, sitting here in 2011 and definitively predicting the failure of new gTLDs seems short-sighted.”
Those who are concerned about the expansion,including corporations, sovereign governments, non-profits, and consumer organizations, see significant problems with ICANN’s New gTLD Program. They argue that the policy will inspire more cybersquatting, cyber crime, cyber terrorism, commercial fraud, and consumer confusion.
Both sides have some legitimate claims to their views about the pros and cons of expanding the domain name space. However, implementing some modifications to ICANN’s proposed policy would allay legitimate fears about the program without stifling the innovation that ICANN hopes the program will foster.
Some misconceptions about the new gTLD Program:
More gTLDs will not result in cybersquatting to the right of the dot – no brand should worry about someone attempting to register a typo of its brand name as a gTLD. ICANN has made sure of that by making the process to get a new gTLDs onerous and rigorous. It will cost anapplicant $185,000 and force the applicant to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to an independent auditor, not ICANN, why it should be allowed to own a new gTLD.
One other key misconception is that cybersquatting to the left of the dot will be rampant in all new gTLDs. It appears that most of the new gTLDs – about two-thirds, by our predictions – will likely be owned by brand owners who will have complete control of the domain names in their gTLD. In other words, they have no interest in selling the domain names to potential cybersquatters.
Not only ICANN, but the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration as well, can play a role in improving the gTLD policy.
Here are some simple recommendations:
First, there will be, by most estimates, only about 300 public-facing new gTLDs in which third parties can register domain names. It is these new gTLDs that may give opportunity to cybersquatters. There is a simple solution. ICANN can compel any new owner of a gTLD to allow trademark owners to block certain names in perpetuity for a low fee, a practice that was already put in place during the launch of the .XXX extension.
Second, the United States Congress should update the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA) of 1999 to reflect the realities of the Internet today. Cybersquatting has evolved over the past decade into a sophisticated form of online piracy that now costs U.S. industry in excess of $1 billion annually. An updated ACPA can complement ICANN’s efforts to control cybersquatting.
Third, the Obama Administration can exercise leverage over ICANN by ensuring that ICANN’s access to the technical functions of the Internet, which it retains through a U.S. government contract, is limited to a short-term renewal as it comes up this March. Making the renewal of the contract dependent on how well the new gTLD program is implemented will encourage ICANN to do everything in its power to ensure consumer safety and national security.
An expansion of the Internet is a serious step. The United States government delegated responsibility of governing the domain name space and policy to ICANN nearly two decades ago, but the same time, the proposed gTLD policy is flawed and badly in need of revision. Both sides of the debate have legitimate claims, but what are needed now are constructive solutions and positive contributions from all stakeholders. There is still time to fix the policy.
As the assigned caretaker of the domain name space, ICANN must be responsive to the Internet community and expand the gTLD space responsibly. For that to happen, some common sense amendments are necessary.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Nao Matsukata and Josh Bourne.