Even though I’m not a geek, I like geek things, so I’ll point out that yesterday was a historic day here in the intertubes. ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the non-profit corporation that oversees the global Internet’s systems of unique identifiers, started accepting applications for non-Latin alphabet domains, otherwise known as generic top level domains, or gTLDs. That means new competition and entrepreneurial opportunities for more diverse domains in Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic.
For the first time, organizations can apply for an Internet address all their own, marking the start of a new era in the growth of the Internet.
For example, .com and .org could be replaced by .starbucks or .newyork.
The expansion was planned by the one organization empowered to regulate the global Internet — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
Debate over the new policy has highlighted the key issue of who, if anyone, should control the Internet.
Anyone who wants his own Internet suffix — his own domain name — will have to pay $185,000 for it. This development could be costly even for those who just want to prevent someone else from grabbing their name. Not surprisingly, ICANN has been criticized for pushing the change.
Some members of Congress actually wanted the Department of Commerce to order ICANN to delay the domain name expansion. The Internet was a U.S. creation, and ICANN was chartered by the Commerce Department.
But there is now a big international pushback over U.S. domination of the Internet, and a growing move to diminish the U.S. role.
By urging the Commerce Department to give ICANN orders, members of Congress may inadvertently highlight that effort. Kieren McCarthy, an analyst of Internet governance issues, sums up the concern about the congressional pressure this way: “It’s making the Internet look exactly like the rest of the world fears that it is, which is a U.S.-controlled entity,” he says.
I have a friend who used to work for ICANN, so I know there’s been a long and contentious process of getting this before the public. Many geeks wanted ICANN to roll out the new domains in phases, but for whatever reason, they didn’t. (One of their concerns is that someone can buy a domain say, .green – without actually being a green organization.)
The attempts by U.S. corporations to hold it up didn’t work, either, so now we’ll get to see whether it works – or is a real mess:
In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, ICANN insists that the rollout of the new domain-name program will be uneventful, and says it has learned from two previous expansions (PDF link): one in 2000 that added domains like .info and .biz, and another in 2009 that added domains that include non-Western characters. It also says managing hundreds of domains isn’t an issue, since there are already more than 200 “country code” domains — including some popular ones such as .tv (the code for the island nation of Tuvalu) and .me (the code for Montenegro).
Not everyone is convinced things will be so easy, however. Domain industry blogger Andrew Allemann, for example, says he is worried about a number of potential problems, including a raft of registrations by domain-name hijackers and cybersquatters, but also controversy over potential top-level applications — such as .gay or .sex, or racially sensitive terms. In any case, the land-rush has officially begun.