[Editor's note: I personally think that this essay is wrong on some history and very wrong as to what it proposes for the future, but our pages are open to views we don't happen to agree with. -mf]|
Generic Top Level Domain Names (gTLDs) are commonly thought to transcend governance by any one nation. But in reality, when they were first created they were controlled by the United States Department of Commerce (DOC), who simply allowed their liberal use to reflect American ideals of free speech and democracy. Had the DOC ever wished to further restrict them in any way, it could have easily done so at any time. However, as registration of gTLDs by non-Americans continued to grow, the DOC realized they should be managed in a way that reflects the interests of the world at large, and not just according to American views. Hence, the ultimate creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization charged with this globally responsive management task.
Since its inception, ICANN’s approach to being globally responsive has been mostly to identify various “groups” it believes to represent the competing and conflicting interests of the world and ask for their input. Some groups identified include governments, commercial enterprises, non-profit organizations, free speech advocates, domain name registrars, as well as any number of other organizations and alliances that are thought to have some common interest. The flaw in this approach is that governments are treated the same as the other groups, which then requires ICANN to consider and reconcile the very different laws, conventions, beliefs, and practices of each nation for every issue they decide. For example, the American view of free speech entitlement on the Internet is far more liberal than it is in many other nations. So, ICANN is immediately put in a position where they must come up with some global free speech policy to a local (i.e. National) issue. Not surprisingly ICANN’s predominant method of resolving these types of issues has been to expand its own structure by delegating authority to various committees, advisory groups, and other organizations sanctioned by themselves.
ICANN recently expanded the Domain Name System (DNS) by creating a couple more gTLDs (i.e. .BIZ, .INFO). The reason primarily cited was to appease commercial interests who were complaining the most desirable domain names in the existing gTLD extensions (i.e. .COM, .NET, .ORG) have already been registered, so new companies and individuals wishing to promote themselves on the Internet are at a commercial disadvantage. Although ICANN’s intent may have been to appease the “commercially disadvantaged”, their decision also practically guarantees ICANN will become a larger more complicated (i.e. thicker) organization in order to effectively manage these new gTLDs in a globally responsive way.
Consequently, I believe a much better way to evolve the DNS is to eliminate gTLDs altogether, rather than expand it by adding more. Since every country in the world already has their own country code extension, and Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) work just as well on the Internet from a technical standpoint as gTLDs. And they provide the same second level mnemonic capabilities as gTLD’s. And they provide the advantage of indicating the Registrant’s location (i.e. country), why do we really need gTLDs in the DNS at all? The primary advantage of gTLDs (in particular the .COM) seems to be the commercial prestige attached to it. If ICANN really wants to eliminate the commercial prestige of the .COM, the best way to do it is to eliminate gTLDs altogether, and not by adding more to incrementally dilute it.
If gTLDs were eliminated, the DNS would also be a lot simpler and less controversial to manage. The country code extensions already provide a sort of “partitioning” of the DNS that can be built upon to continue its evolution and improvement. The Domain Name System of today could and should be evolved into a domain classification system of tomorrow where the only purpose of the TLD is to identify the controlling governmental authority of the domain name. Each government could then choose whatever sub-classifications they desire under their own country code. For example, many country codes would likely have a subclass specifically reserved for commercial entities. Conversely, some countries may choose to have a subclass for religious organizations, whereas others may not. A sub-classification system such as this would also allow the recently introduced Sponsored Top Level Domains (sTLDs) (i.e. .COOP, ..MUSEUM, .AERO) to be eliminated from the DNS. After all, from a common sense standpoint do we really need some global sTLD organization attempting to find some theoretical common ground for all the cooperatives in the world, or all the museums in the world, or all the professionals in the world, when the activities of these organizations and individuals are so inextricably tied to the individual governing laws and regulations of separate nations?
A DNS that functions as a classification system far outweighs whatever marketing prestige is now attached to having a .COM after your name. Search engines could be made more advanced, allowing Internet users to target websites and businesses located in a particular country or of a desired subclass simply by instructing the search engine to limit its search parameters as such. Trademark disputes involving domain names would be far less complicated because the governing authority for each domain name would be implicit in its country code designation. And once such a subclass hierarchy is in place it could easily be expanded upon with more sophisticated subclasses, such as GPS (global positioning). Whereas the GPS coordinate could be associated with a domain name, and would allow search engines to identify the exact location of a business within X feet.
The principal role of ICANN in this hypothetical Domain Classification System would be to ensure every government complies with certain domain name management rules and regulations established by ICANN. For example, ICANN may require that each government publicly display (on the ICANN website) their registration policies and procedures currently in effect for their ccTLD. Another role of ICANN might be to facilitate international agreements between the governments for the good of the Internet community at large. For example, most governments may be willing participate in an international agreement that requires all commercial websites (i.e. commercially sub classed) to display a “commercial disclosure page” on their website that identifies certain information about the operating entity, such as physical location, name of owner, business license number, etc. As various International agreements are created, ICANN would publish them on their website and indicate which countries that have agreed to them.
So even if ICANN were to entertain such a fundamental restructuring of the DNS, how could it be effectively implemented without the risk of destabilizing the whole system? I believe such a transition could be made with little prejudice to anyone if done over an extended period of time. Perhaps 10 years. ICANN would first need to advise the Internet community that its primary objective is to evolve the Domain Name System (DNS) into a Domain Classification System (DCS). At the end of the 10-year period gTLDs would no longer resolve, and companies and individuals would need to have replaced their gTLD with a domain name in their applicable country code by then. Prior to that time gTLDs may still be registered and would resolve as normal. As companies and individuals secure a desired ccTLD during the transition period, they can simply point their existing gTLD to their new ccTLD website until the end of the 10 year phase out, so no traffic is lost during the transition.
Also during the 10-year transition phase, search engines would be encouraged to enhance their technology so Internet users can prioritize (or limit) their search queries by TLD (Top Level Domain). Doing so would help make the advantages of a domain classification system readily apparent to the average Internet user and would cause no harm to the .COM owners, since search queries could just as easily be limited to the .COM extension as they could to the country code extensions.
One thing is certain; as long as gTLDs exist, ICANN will remain a thick organization that tends to resolve issues by expanding its own organization. Eliminating gTLDs altogether would allow each country to exercise the greatest amount of sovereignty over its own “section” of the DNS and would ensure ICANN remains the thinnest organization possible.
David E. Galomb
March 08, 2003