30 July, 2009

Has ICANN Gone Too Far?

ICANN was formed in 1998. It is a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. It promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers.
ICANN is pushing to expand the Internet's Top Level Domains (TLD or gTLD) from its current 21 to some staggering, unspecified new number. TLDs are the .COMs, .ORGs, etc at the end of URLs. "The advantage of all this is there will be many more ways for sites to be described. The question is whether it will really help Internet users or confuse them." asks Saul Hansell in a recent NY Times article. But that's just scratching the surface of the issue.

According to CADNA (Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse), companies are already losing over $1 billion annually due to cybersquatters misrepresenting and redirecting traffic on the Internet through taking advantage of URLs not purchased by companies. The proposal being made by ICANN can skyrocket those losses and increase expenses to try and manage the new TLDs. One estimate predicts an additional $1.6 billion in expenses for the top 1500 companies if ICANN goes forward.

That sounds like a lot of money - $1.6 billion. It is! With ICANNS proposal, if you want to get a new TLD for your company, say for example .TODD, it would cost you $185,000. All of a sudden the leveling of the playing field that the Internet has provided has been shaken up, because most business just can't afford $185,000. Mr. Hansell at the NY Times in his article "The Best Internet Addresses Will Cost a Cool .Million" estimates a cool $500K to $1 million for any given company if they want their own TLD.

Clearly this is a big issue that has folks taking sides. CADNA has members from Nike, HP, Dell, and Marriott, to name just a few, who are pushing back on ICANN. The team working with ICANN is "governments, individuals, civil society, business and intellectual property constituencies, and the technology community." The amount of technical in nature paperwork generated on this is too much for the lay person to go through and make sense of. Fortunately, someone with expertise and resources at his disposal has weighed in. Ken Hittel, Vice President of the Corporate Internet Department at New York Life Insurance Company wrote an article, "Just Wait a New York Minute"

Mr. Hittel makes some interesting points. Here are some of what he covers; click-through to read it yourself.
  1. Do we really need new TLDs? ...New York Life has a relatively small portfolio of about 400 names and 90% of these are not and never will be in use...
  2. Have we really run out of .coms?
  3. How much are the new TLDs going to cost us?
  4. How do the new TLDs benefit the consumer?
  5. Who, then, benefits from the new TLDs?
The benefit seems to be for ICANN and/or "The other party that could benefit would be cybersquatters and online criminals" concludes Mr. Hittel. The "gaming" of this new system has already begun and their is fear that ICANN is not prepared to handle it. In a paper released today, "New gTLDs: Let the Gaming Begin, Part I: TLD Front Running," Michael Palage speaks to the problems already starting and what ICANN needs to protect against.

What can we do? I would suggest a few things to begin with:
  1. Let ICANN know how you feel
  2. Join a group such as CADNA
  3. Spread this with others who care about the impact to their organizations
I'm sure there must be more we can do. If you have additional input on this for the Internet community, let me know.

2 comments:

kieren said...

Is there really a shortage of dot-coms?

Answer: Yes.

Here's the latest reflection on that subject from Inc. magazine: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20090701/good-domain-names-grow-scarce.html

"Good Domain Names Grow Scarce - Most of the good, short words you would want for making a great domain name are already taken..."

CHRISdotTODD said...

Thanks for the comment. I think the article makes the point that adding more TLDs is not going to solve the issue. (1) You can buy names from cybersquatters today from $330 to $350K -- I don't see how this behavior will change. This is the issue brands are worried about -- increased costs to get more names under their control, so cybersquatters do not try and spoof their real domains to take advantage of the unknowing Internet customer; (2) .NET and other extensions are available, but people aren't taking them -- so why would people want more TLDs? So either way you look at it, the ICANN solution misses the mark.