ICANN and Internet Big Bang

ICANN and Internet Big Bang

The announcement by ICANN to open the Internet to a limitless number of domains has been a cause of stir since June 2008 when Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) accepted this recommendation of its global stakeholders.  ICANN's website describes itself as a not-for-profit public-benefit corporation aimed at coordinating and maintaining the integrity of the Internet's naming system. ICANN accomplishes this by overseeing the purchase or sale of domain names.

A domain name is a part of the URL address typed into the web browser, and tells the visitors where the website is on the Internet. ICANN currently accredits domain-name registrars for the following Top Level Domains (TLDs) or Domain name extensions: .aero, .asia, .biz, .cat, .com, .coop, .info, .jobs, .mobi, .museum, .name, .net, .org, .pro, .tel and .travel. Two common categories of TLDs include: ccTLDs and gTLDs. The former refers to "country-code" TLDs which contains two letters representing over 250 countries and external territories, such as .ca. Most TLDs with three or more characters are referred to as generic TLDs or gTLDs.

By opening this Pandora's box of gTLDs, ICANN has essentially allowed businesses and organizations to run with their creativity and to apply for any top-level domain they can possibly think of. However, there is also a filtering mechanism in place. The ICANN website clarifies that this is not a market where every claimed domain name will be sold; instead, there will be a scrutinizing process to which every application, from any established entity from anywhere in the world, will be subjected. This process is meant to minimize the prevalence of offensive domain names or of those infringing on other people's intellectual property.

While some may be thrilled at the thought of expanding the Internet web to include some entertaining, ingenious and imaginative domain names, there remains many causes of concern.  Aside from the guaranteed influx in domain names, which some claim will cause immense confusion and difficulty of navigation, some consumers even go as far as to claim that it would send Internet out of control. Adding to them, the problem is the issue of credibility. Since most of us have already acknowledged the fact that not all the information online is trustworthy, and that websites with .edu or .org extensions are more reliable than any random .com, it will be a major challenge to accept information from the upcoming new gTLDs. For some opportunists, this may also be a golden chance to indulge in the practice of cybersquatting. Even more importantly and from a practical point of view, we may also find it difficult to remember these new URLs.

The report of Dennis Carlton, a senior managing director from Compass Lexcon, regarding the ICANN's Proposed Mechanism for Introducing New gTLDs, suggests otherwise. The paper proposes that from an economic perspective, the ICANN's proposed framework for introducing new gTLDs will facilitate entry and benefit consumers by expanding output, lowering price and increasing innovation. Primarily the significant competition that will result from new registrants and increased product choice will prove to be significantly beneficial for customers.

Since ICANN stands as a not-for-profit organization, and has, to this date, contributed tremendously to stabilize Internet and the domain systems, it is easy to conclude that this mass exodus from the traditional ways is not based on a materialistic motivation. In fact, promoting competition and choice is one of the principles upon which ICANN was founded. By taking some preliminary measures of precaution, such as thorough application scrutiny before assigning a domain name, in-depth technical scrutiny to ensure Internet stabilization, placement of dispute resolution mechanisms to cater to trade-mark infringement allegations etc., ICANN can revive the interest, trust and participation of 1.5 billion Internet users to bask in the diversity, choice and innovation that will likely come out of this proposal.