ICANN: New TLDs debate to drag on

Stumbling blocks are many, but key concerns include brand protection by major global companies and security

The debate has become heated at the ICANN meeting in Seoul this week over whether new generic Top-Level Domains should be approved and whether some applicants should be allowed into the fast-track process.

Malicious conduct, brand protection, economic motivation, stability and security, intellectual property and trademark issues are some of the stumbling blocks facing applicants for the new gTLDs. Existing TLDs include .com, .net and .org.

"There are many challenges that must be tackled before the new TLDs can be introduced. There are business and consumer concerns,"said Rod Beckstrom, CEO and president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

The main concern is brand protection by major global companies that see the introduction of new gTLDs as a way for companies to "collect rent" because the companies will be forced into defensive buying of domains to guard against malicious users.

There are some among the ICANN constituents who see the threat of increased cyberattacks from expanding gTLDs, while others see them as a new form of security.

"Businesses and consumers are victims of phishing and malicious attacks and fear that it will become worse if ICANN expands the space," said NetChoice CEO Steve DelBianco, who has been vocal on the subject. NetChoice is a coalition of e-commerce companies and trade associations that lobbies on e-commerce issues.

On the other hand, applicants point to growing consumer demand, rising prices for some of the existing domains, the ability to deliver more geographically precise searches and the ability to allow people to identify with their communities.

Some of the new TLDs applied for have cultural and language considerations such as .bzh for the Breton community, .cym for the Welsh, .eus for the Basque language, .gal for the Galician language and .Scot for the Scottish. Others are geographical such as .berlin and .nyc, while others are for specific groups such as .music, .shop and .gay.

Last month, the Dot Innovate Alliance, a coalition of businesses and individuals in the IT industry, wrote a letter to the ICANN board advocating for the introduction of new TLDs. New TLDs will lower domain prices; provide new businesses and jobs, as well as new technical and business-process improvements; and lead to innovative uses of Internet naming and identity, with diversity in regional and language-specific identities, the alliance said.

ICANN received 12 responses to its call for applications from independent evaluators of the new gTLD initiative. Evaluators will determine whether applicants meet the requirements for gTLDs. ICANN has not set a launch date for the gTLD program, but the process -- and the debate -- is expected to continue well into next year.

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Rebecca Wanjiku

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