ICANN gTLD Plan Begins to Unravel

Oh ICANN, Dear ICANN. Please say it ain’t so!

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the bureaucracy that oversees the Internet. This committee of intellectuals coordinates IP address space, assigns address blocks, governs standards, administers root DNS architecture, develops internationalization, arbitrates disputes, and perhaps – most ignobly – it sets policy over Top Level Domains.

They do this all under a US government contract which evolved as the Internet grew from academic and military roots to become an all-encompassing network of global public highways. But over the years and throughout the shifting winds of politics and technology, one thing has remained constant: ICANN’s fundamental Raison d’être is to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet. Obviously, they cannot ensure the stability and ready access of every web server. The operation, maintenance and connection of equipment is the responsibility of the millions of server owners across the globe. Each GoDaddy, each Google, and each individual user is a node in a vast network that gradually creeps—some pundits suspect—toward consciousness.

Since ICANN manages a public resource, there will always be political components to the organization structure and funding. After all, it is difficult to imagine their responsibilities fulfilled by an entity subject to pure, free market mechanisms. But because they are international in scope, setting standards & policy that affect billions of people in every nook and cranny of our world, they should be depoliticized to the extent possible. Every opportunity should be exploited to move each department and each function toward free market mechanisms.

Unfortunately, in the post-Esther Dyson era, ICANN has turned into a money grubbing hodgepodge of special interests. It certainly appears that they are extorting wads of cash from the public by raising fears of trademark infringement. It’s the only reasonable explanation for their insane and malfeasant decision to create unlimited global Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

If you already operate as Coca-Cola.com, why on earth should you be pushed into buying .Coca-Cola? Simple. Because ICANN will sell it to someone else if you don’t.

In the middle of 2011, ICANN cooked up a cockamamie idea to unleash an infinite number of random top level domains on the world. I tried hard to dissuade ICANN from proliferating gTLDs when it was proposed in June 2011. (I wrote about it here at AWildDuck, when the Blog was created in August). I have a few friends at ICANN, though I suspect I am losing them fast. And so, here is my mea culpa: I told you so…

No—The plan has not yet been fully implemented. It’s slated to go online in 2013. But it’s already beginning to unravel. Today, ICANN announced that due to public dissent and gross technical problems (they called it “unexpected results”), they are scrapping a new system designed to prioritize TLD applications. This is big news to the few thousand applicants who hope to own custom top level domains such as .google, .dance-with-the-stars, or .i_are_an_idiot! After all, they put up US $185,000 each to corner the market for snake oil. They see it as a potentially valuable piece of web real estate.

Dear applicants: It is not. It is smoke up your derriere—an illusion.

Listen up, ICANN: Stop duping the public. Stop profiteering. It’s not in your charter. Go back to square one. In fact, Go a few steps behind square one. you are solving a problem that does not exist. There are already too many gTLDs (.com and .gov and perhaps .org are the only ones that are useful). Everything else clouds the water and invites squatters and profiteers. They only serve to fatten your wallets or stir up trade name disputes.

A better idea: Get rid of all TLDs. Every one of them! Let current .com users own the naked term and stop forcing little guys to repurchase their names. Please ICANN. The current debacle is just the first embarrassment. Run back. Admit the error. Give it up!