New registering program – Door opened to allow almost anything

For the London Free Press – August 8, 2011 – Read this on Canoe

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently approved a new program for registering generic top-level domain names (gTLDs). The door has opened to allow for almost anything.

The current most commonly recognized TLD is .com, followed by .org.

By 2013, Internet users can expect to see an influx of new internet domain extensions, such as .bank, or ones using major brand names.

The new program will open up the Internet domain market for businesses, organizations and individuals who wish to distinguish themselves or their products in the virtual world by having a personalized domain extension. ICANN anticipates many of the new domain extensions will be registered by cities and other geographic locations, by corporations and by special interest groups.

Those who wish to register a gTLD must submit an application to ICANN and pay a $185,000 application fee. ICANN will begin accepting applications between Jan. 12, 2012 and April 12, 2012. After the application deadline, ICANN will review each application and assess whether the proposed domain extension will be appropriate.

ICANN has introduced a list of conditions and qualifications that must be met by gTLD applicants to ensure they have sufficient financial, technical and operational capabilities to administrate and maintain their gTLD. For example, applicants are first required to undergo background screening of their general business diligence and criminal history to validate the legitimacy of their application and prevent cyber-fraud.

If an applicant passes the background screening, it will be subject to several assessments and evaluations to determine whether their proposed gTLD is feasible. This includes a review to determine whether it will create user confusion or too closely resembles another gTLD. There is a process to determine which applicant will prevail if there are multiple applicants for the same gTLD.

Administrating a gTLD involves a huge commitment and the responsibility to ensure security, ease of access and uninterrupted use. Unlike registering a website domain, such as google.com,a gTLD can accommodate thousands of different websites with the same domain extension.

ICANN’s decision to expand the gTLD registry presents some potential challenges and concerns that must be addressed. For example, gTLDs are border-less but the entities that own the rights to administer a gTLD are confined to the country in which they reside.

A Canadian entity might, for example, acquire the right to administer the domain extension . bank and restrict its use to legitimate banks. However, other countries with different laws about what constitutes a bank may also wish to use the . bank domain extension. Such a situation may give rise to conflicts and liabilities if not adequately prepared for in advance.

The expansion of the gTLD will certainly make the Internet a more interesting place to explore as businesses and individuals seek to distinguish themselves and their products or services online. More information about the ICAN gTLD application process is in its Applicant Guidebook on its website at icann.org.

Controversy over control of ICANN won’t likely die soon

For the London Free Press – November 2, 2009

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INTERNET: ICANN regulates the basic functions of the Internet, most notably, the assignment of domain names

ICANN, the body that controls the Internet, is now subject to more worldwide control and less control by Washington.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the U.S.-based non-profit organization responsible for the global co-ordination of the Internet’s addressing system.

ICANN regulates the basic functions of the Internet, most notably, the assignment of domain names. Its principles include: Internet stability, competition, private “bottom-up” co-ordination, and representation.

ICANN was originally created and run by the U.S. government. Not surprisingly, that control was heavily criticized as the Internet became a global phenomenon.

Many countries criticized the U.S.-based agency as having too much influence over the Internet, a system used by hundreds of millions around the globe.

Additional international issues arose, such as the language of domain names and problems associated with non-English characters and multilingualism.

The U.S. maintained its control, however, until this year.

Under pressure from Europea regulators and other international critics, Washington announced an agreement between the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and ICANN Sept. 30.

The deal completes the transition process by which ICANN will become a multi-stakeholder, private sector-led corporation.

“This framework puts the public interest front and centre, and it establishes processes for stakeholders around the world to review ICANN’s performance,” NTIA administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said.

The agreement has ensured a broader role for international governments in ICANN’s operation through establishment of advisory panels. These panels, made up of government and private-sector representatives from various places around the world, will review ICANN decisions to ensure they’re made openly and reflect the public interest. The aim is to ensure that ICANN is successful, accountable, and transparent.

Each advisory panel will consist of representatives chosen by ICANN leaders and its advisory committee of government officials. The U.S. Commerce Department has only one guaranteed seat on the panels, with the majority of members coming from international governments. ICANN will remain U.S.-based, with head office in Marina del Ray, Calif., but offices will continue to be instituted globally.

Washington, however, has not relinquished all control. Panel recommendations will not be binding on ICANN. And the U.S. Commerce Department will retain control over most domain name administration issues. So the issue of control over ICANN is unlikely to die soon.

Hopefully, the advisory panels will be functional and their advice will be followed. That would go a long way to boosting international comfort with ICANN, and U.S. comfort with looser control over ICANN.

Domain name rules to change in 2009

for the London Free Press – Dec 1, 2008

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A recent decision by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for global co-ordination of the Internet’s addressing system, will permit companies and individuals to turn their names into Web addresses: www.david.canton, for example.

The wrinkle? The fee to obtain .canton as a TLD, or top level domain, is about $200,000.

This year, ICANN relaxed the strict rules on TLDs, paving the way for alternatives to .com and the 21 generic TLDs serving the Net. There are also country-level TLDs such as .ca for Canada.

Now ICANN is about to allow new generic top level domains (gTLDs) that anyone can create, opening the door for companies to register their brands as gTLDs, such as “.coke”.

“The Internet has produced great openness and innovation that has led to changes few of us imagined,” said Paul Twomey, ICANN’s president and chief executive. “The effect of opening up the top-level of the domain system will enable more innovation and entrepreneurial applications.”

ICANN also plans to introduce domain names in various languages and scripts, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian. This proposal would permit Internet addresses to be created in completely non-English characters for the first time, opening the Internet to millions more people worldwide.

Currently, the addressing system only supports 37 Roman characters. ICANN’s chairperson, Peter Dengate Thrush, has said this move “is going to be very important for the future of the Internet in Asia, the Middle East, eastern Europe and Russia.”

ICANN’s proposal is not without its critics, however. Opponents argue that it will be costly, difficult to administer and could lead to bidding wars over more generic names.

In addition, trademarks will not be automatically reserved. Owners will have to resort to an objection-based mechanism to make arguments for the protection of their trademarks.

ICANN assures critics that these concerns have been “listened to and taken into account.”

The organization released a draft of the applicant guidebook on Oct. 23, 2004, for those interested in applying for a new gTLD. On Oct. 24, 2008, ICANN began the first of two 45-day public comment periods.

ICANN warns, however, that “potential applicants for new gTLDs should not rely on any of the proposed details of the draft guidebook, which remains subject to further consultation and revision.”

With the final applicant guidebook slated for release early next year, ICANN expects to accept bids for new gTLDs as early as the second quarter of 2009.

During the application period, which is expected to be limited, “any established entity from anywhere in the world can submit an application that will go through an evaluation process.”

New gTLDs could be in use as early as the last half of 2009.

ICANN expects additional application periods will follow soon after the initial process ends.

Moves on to sour domain tasting

For the London Free Press – February 25, 2008

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If you’ve never heard of domain tasting, you’re not alone. To many looking to obtain Internet domain names, however, it’s a serious problem that is finally being addressed.

If you sign up for a new domain name, you are given a five-day grace period. Within this grace period you can cancel the domain name at no cost. This is meant to handle situations where domain name purchasers made a mistake, such as a spelling error.

This grace period has been exploited by people acquiring domain names in bulk. Through the use of software that automatically acquires domain names it is possible to test out large numbers of domain names to determine which ones have the potential to be profitable.

During the five-day grace period, click-through ads are placed on the temporarily acquired domains. If the ads generate sufficient revenue they may keep the domain names. This often occurs if the name is close to a real name, or is a logical guess at a web address. For the vast majority that have no immediate value, the domain names will be canceled within the five day grace period at no cost.

In other cases, the domain name will be allowed to lapse after five days and then be reacquired for an indefinite number of five-day periods. This practice of continually re-registering is known as kiting.

The sheer scale on which domain tasting can occur (as many as 90 per cent of new registrations can be attributed to domain tasting) makes it a problem largely due to its interference with those who want to get legitimate domain names for useful purposes.

After years of complaints, it seems that both Google and ICANN have decided to do something about the practice.

Google responded first by targeting domain tasters’ main source of revenue — advertisements placed on the temporarily registered domain names. Google recently announced it will not allow any Google AdSense ads to appear on domains that are being kited. AdSense allows domain registrants to generate web pages full of ads where no website content yet exists.

Google’s actions will undoubtedly have some impact. In the short term, domain tasters will be able to move to other platforms, unless they follow Google’s example. Some find Google’s decision to restrict the use of AdSense by domain tasters somewhat surprising, as they make money from the practice.

ICANN has looked at several potential methods of discouraging the practice of domain tasting. ICANN recently embraced the option of effectively deleting the grace period. This was accomplished by withdrawing ICANN’s waiver of ICANN’s non-refundable transaction fee to the deletion of names within the grace period.

While the fee is only 20 cents per registration, the scale of registrations should make this approach effective. In January, for example, 47,824,131 domain names were deleted. Ninety-five per cent of these deletes were by just 10 registrars. At $0.20 each, this would have cost over $9 million, significantly curtailing any chances for profit.

After years of complaints, it seems the growing problem of domain tasting may finally be solved.

Identifying domain owners spurs debate

For the London Free Press – October 1, 2007

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A debate has been raging within both CIRA and ICANN about just what information should be available using a WHOIS search to see who owns a domain name.

Some cite privacy concerns and argue that as little information as possible should be available. Others fear the lack of accountability that may occur should the contents of a WHOIS search be curtailed.

CIRA is the Canadian Internet Registration Authority — responsible for operating Canada’s dot-ca Internet country code Top Level Domain. ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — responsible for operating generic Top Level Domains such as dot-com.

WHOIS is an online directory service that allows anyone to see who owns Internet Domain Names. For example, a WHOIS search on “harrisonpensa.com” will reveal the name and contact information of its owner and the administrative contact who has authority to deal with the domain name.

Both CIRA and ICANN have been developing policies to address privacy concerns.

CIRA has been working to develop a WHOIS privacy policy for several years. Public consultations in 2004 and 2006 led to new policies that limit the amount of information available on a WHOIS search. CIRA is planning to implement the new WHOIS privacy policy in March of 2008.

Under the new policy, if a registrant’s data is disclosed to a third party without their knowledge, the registrant will be informed between 30 and 60 days after the disclosure. This seems to be geared toward concerns expressed by law enforcement regarding the impact notice may have on ongoing investigations.

The new policy attempts to deal with concerns regarding the ability of would-be purchasers of domains to contact domain owners. CIRA will establish an administrative process for passing correspondence from interested parties to registrants.

The new policy will amend CIRA’s Dispute Resolution Policy rules. There is concern that changes to the WHOIS policy will make it more difficult to prove a domain was registered in bad faith. The changes are intended to make it easier for a complainant to provide evidence to prove their case.

ICANN has struggled to reach a consensus, with neither camp willing to move from their position. The current proposal put forth by ICANN replaces some personal information with a pointer to a proxy known as the OPOC, the Operational Point of Contact. The OPOC would act as a mediator between the registrant and the party wishing to contact them. The OPOC would only be placed in front of individual registrants. This element of the proposal addresses one major issue overlooked by CIRA in that privacy concerns apply only to individuals, not to corporations.

While such systems might help address concerns regarding individual privacy, it will also create an additional layer of bureaucracy to be navigated by law enforcement and others who rely on WHOIS to deal with abuse of the internet.

Currently WHOIS can provide an easy way for lawyers to contact parties whose websites may be violating the rights of others, such as improperly using copyrighted materials, defamation, or trade-mark infringement.

Complicating this process will certainly increase the time and costs associated with such efforts.

Vint Cerf on the end of his chairmanship of ICANN

Vint Cerf – often referred to as the father of the Internet – is about to step down as chair of ICANN as he has served the maximum allowed terms. ICANN is the body that governs the basic functions of the Internet.

His YouTube interview is worth a look by anyone who wants to know what ICANN does, or wants to participate in ICANN. He talks about ICANN’s role, why its role is a challenge, and what kind of people it needs as directors and other volunteers.

If you want to be on the board, you have a few days left to apply.

Thanks to CircleID for mentioning this

Read an article on the ICANN site

Watch the YouTube video

International Trade-mark Association comment on Whois

The latest Webnames.ca domain news newsletter refers to a letter sent by the INTA to Vint Cerf of ICANN.

There is a trend to eliminate the viewing of, or reduce the use of, Whois data (the identity and contact info of domain name registrants). While I am sensitive to privacy issues about individual registrants, it is important that Whois information be available.

The letter should be read in its entirety, but it says in part:

… we respectfully request that it resolve to preserve access to registrant contact data in Whois and to improve the accuracy of that data so that violations of law and threats to the health and safety of the public may be addressed in an efficient manner.

Whois serves a vital role in remedying fraud on the Internet. Its uses include: law enforcement, consumer protection, and the protection of intellectual property rights. Trademark owners value Whois data in order to resolve domain name disputes (e.g., cybersquatting) and learn the contact details for owners of websites offering dangerous counterfeit products. Only with access to accurate and up-to-date Whois data can the Internet be a safe environment that can be relied on with confidence.

Whois not only facilitates the investigation of legal violations on the Internet, but serves a basic function in making the rule of law apply to the Internet by providing information necessary to serve notice and institute legal action against violators.

Read the INTA letter

Go to webnames.ca

Whois privacy

Circle ID has a post that refers to a Wall Street Journal article on Whois privacy. ICAAN and CIRA are now trying to figure out how to deal with this issue.

Now, one can do a whois inquiry and find out the name and contact information for the owner of any domain name. That has raised privacy concerns. Some feel that information should not be made public.

Even though I support privacy principles in general, and advise clients on privacy issues, I disagree with a total ban on the ability to find that information.

First, privacy concepts apply to individuals, not corporations or other other non-human entities. So at the most any publication ban should be only for individuals that own domains.

Second, I have a real problem if I as a lawyer can’t look up the owners of domain names. It is often necessary to know who a site owner is to deal with situations where a site has, for example, violated trade-mark or copyright or has defamed a client. Or a client may simply want to contact a domain owner to see if they are interested in selling a site.

The Wall Street Journal article mentions how the Red Cross used whois information to shut down sites that were fraudulently trying to collect money for Katrina victims.

Read the CircleID post

CIRA to ICANN – clean up your governance

In preparation for the upcoming ICANN meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, CIRA sent an open letter to ICANN. CIRA is concerned about the way ICANN carries on business, citing issues in accountability, transparency of decision making, and fair process.

Until CIRA is satisfied, it is suspending the payment of money to ICANN, and declining certain ICANN activities.

So add CIRA to the list of those unhappy with ICANN governance and the Verisign decision. That list includes many countries outside of North America, the US Department of Justice, and a group of 23 ICANN registrars which made a “Joint Request for Reconsideration and Emergency Relief” regarding the ICANN settlement with VeriSign.

Read the CIRA letter

Read the registrar request

Internet must be Facilitated, not Controlled

Vint Cerf of Google – who has been called the father of the Internet – submitted a letter for a congressional hearing on some proposed legislation.

His words are also relevant for the current debate over US/ICANN control over the Internet, vs. the desire for more control from outside North America, perhaps by the UN. No matter what the ultimate governance model is, it must focus on enabling the Internet, not controlling it, and can’t let bureaucracy get in the way.

He stated in part: The remarkable social impact and economic success of the Internet is in many ways directly attributable to the architectural characteristics that were part of its design. The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services. The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control. By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation. This has led to an explosion of offerings – from VOIP to 802.11x wi-fi to blogging – that might never have evolved had central control of the network been required by design

Read a Slashdot post with more detail

Read a Circle ID article on Internet governance