Sensible (and Tactical) Thoughts on New TLDs from the Business Constituency
Date: Tuesday January 07 2003, @10:05AM
Topic: gTLDs hoping to enter the legacy root

A kindly soul sent us a copy of the ICANN Business Constituency Position Paper entitled A Differentiated Expansion of the Names Space (MS .doc) dated December 2002. It is an interesting and tactical paper. The interesting part concerns a proposal for separating registry and names, which looks pretty sensible at first glance, and advocacy of a very sensible two-part procedure for going forward with debates on new gTLDs. [The paper refuses to call them gTLDs presumably because ICANN is against them; the paper is more or less against them too, alas.] Unfortunately, the tactical part sounds a bit too much like the good ol' anti-competitive TLD supply management policy we've come to know so well...

Let's start with the good stuff. The paper proposes

a separation of the registry and the name. In contrast to the earlier ICANN process, where a single registry lived or died by one proposed name, there should be a set of qualified registries free to operate the back-end of multiple gTLDs, each of which has a different sponsor. Under this system, a registry that failed could be replaced by another registry without removing the name from the domain name system, and so protecting the investment of registrants.
This is smart. Who (other than incumbent registries, maybe (maybe not?), could oppose that? Since ICANN has to regulate everything, why not at least get a bunch of incumbents and would-be entrants qualified under a safe harbor, and then say to gTLD applicants that they can pick any registry they like once their TLD is approved. If nothing else, that should bring down the cost of applications by several tens of thousands of dollars. In a way of course it's totally backwards -- if ICANN were really about technical coordination, it would approve registries, fix quotas for new TLDs regardless of semantic content, and then find a neutral way to allocate naming and management rights. But given the world we are in, this idea could represent real progress -- so long as the criteria for getting approved as a registry were not so high as to be an anti-competitive barrier to entry. Acid tests: would Chris Ambler's .web backend qualify? Would IMS/ISC make it?

The paper also has sensible things to say about how to go forward:

  • Step 1 ICANN agrees to a set of principles for all future domain names.
  • Step 2 ICANN invites qualified sponsors and registries
The tactical part is in the principles advocated. Suddenly abandoning the market-driven ideas that animated the separation of registry and name, the paper veers into endorsing the same sad ICANN dirigisme that brought us the not-so-magnificent-seven new TLDs we've got. The paper attempts to justify this of "the development of a logical expansion, which will result in a name space with added value, rather than the cloning of the existing space" on the grounds that this so-called "value-added space" will "create differentiation and reduce the need for entities to defensively register." And, unmentioned, these so-called "added value" names won't be as directly competitive with existing names. This is pretty close to the monopoly (ICANN)/oligopoly (incumbent registries) strategy that Mark Lemley and I argue in our paper ICANN and Antitrust would subject ICANN and all those who participate in the new TLD decision making process to liability exposure.

Why, once we have separated name from registry, does ICANN have to be in the name business at all? Why not just set name quotas and let approved registries pick any unused name they want? The paper argues that consumers would be "confused" by the wrong names -- but if registries are stupid enough to pick a confusing name, they'll go bust. The paper argues that names should be "meaningful". That's just silly: meaning is easily manufactured. Think about the meanings words like "amazon" or "google" or "napster" have today, and how they got them.

Still, Rome wasn't built in a day. This paper is a sign of progress, and would serve as a productive marker for a genuine debate among interested parties -- if only ICANN weren't being gerrymandered to exclude so many of the parties.

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Acid test?
by PeterBarron (pebarron@hotmail.com) on Tuesday January 07 2003, @11:58AM (#10907)
User #3240 Info | http://www.icannwatch.org/
You say that an acid test might be IOD's registry. How so? Would IOD be allowed to propose the name as well as itself as registry? Or would this plan allow a qualified registry to attempt to claim .WEB, as Afilias tried to do?

How does this plan deal with existing applicants who have already paid and selected their TLDs?

++Peter
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Seperating Names and Registries
by dpf (dpf@ihug.co.nz) on Tuesday January 07 2003, @12:28PM (#10909)
User #2770 Info | http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/
I very much endorse the thinking in this section. In an ideal world no registry in my opinion would "own" a TLD and the TLD Manager would regularly tender out for the operation of a registry for that name. That way you would get competition and innovation as registries compete to "host" TLDs.

There would be issues around who would make the decision to tender for the open gTLDs which may not have a natural organisation to act as manager. You could argue ICANN itself - because that is the role it originally had for com, net and org before it gifted two of them back to Verisign for pretty much life.

To some degree .org has gone down these lines. ISOC is the TLD Manager and it has effectively select Affilias to run the registry (even though it is through PIR). I presume ISOC/PIR has the power to choose to use another backend provider after a certain period of time.

DPF
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Not so sensible
by Mueller ({mueller} {at} {syr.edu}) on Friday January 10 2003, @12:56PM (#10947)
User #2901 Info | http://istweb.syr.edu/~mueller/

I am amazed that my colleague Michael has been taken in by the BC snake oil regarding name selection by registries. Let's try this in another industry: The US government will decide what kind of car models get built, and then we will select among a group of "qualified manufacturers" to build them. The FCC will decide what type of radio station formats will be offered and select among a group of "qualified broadcasters" to operate them. Gak! Or should I say GAC?!! See any problem related to innovation here? More to the point, who is going to enter the registry business if they don't know what names, if any, they are going to service?

Furthermore, the rationale that this will facilitate consumer protection in the event of registry failure is so transparently a nonsequitur that I'm surprised no one has commented. If names can be transferred from one registry to another (via escrow) then they can be transferred regardless of who selected the names!

This whole proposal is simply a ploy to make registries into toothless patsies who are completely under the thumb of the ICANN regulator. They will have no property rights or equity in the names they service, no incentive to innovate, etc.
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