Many stumbling blocks on the way to a new top-level domain
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), will charge a basic fee of $185,000 for a top level domain (TLD). Shortly before its meeting in Cairo, the internet administration body published a draft of a guidebook explaining how TLDs will be awarded. On top of the basic fee – and in addition to other small charges such as a registration fee for the electronic application system ($100), an applicant can easily rack up other hefty charges in the course of the application process. Fees could include the charge for a closer review to determine that the applicant meets technical prerequisites ($50,000), the cost of settling third party claims against the applicant ($70,000 to $122,000), and comparative evaluations of competitors for the same address zone (amount unknown). The applicant will not find out if they are awarded their own TLD until the very end of the process, and if they do finally acquire their own TLD, do not even know if these will ever actually be visible on the internet.
Following years of discussions, ICANN has indicated its willingness to introduce new TLDs on the internet. At their meeting in Paris, ICANN's directors accepted a concept developed by its independent Generic Names Supporting Association (GNSO) responsible for generic TLDs. Following an initial test round of new TLDs in 2000, and a second smaller round for special purpose TLDs in 2004, the organisation established a standardised procedure for handling additional applications for new address zones, such as .com, .biz, and .cat – this makes it possible to select just about any group of letters as a top level domain. Details about the application procedure, the costs involved, and registration procedures within approved new domains were not specified, however, in the ruling on the new TLD procedures. The ICANN draft is intended to form the basis for such decisions.
In its voluminous draft, which will be discussed in Cairo, ICANN points out very clearly and in no uncertain terms that in the past new TLDs have often had a difficult time of getting onto the list of addressable zones with internet providers and application hosters. A .museum domain does not exist for many applications and even a .info e-mail address is not recognised as valid in all registration forms. Considering the costs and difficulties involved, it is probably good that ICANN flatly rules out applications from individuals – they only want applications from companies or organisations. However, there may be an objection to this rule in the debates to come.
An ICANN overview of barriers that potential applicants may have to overcome shows how complex the new TLD processes will be. Nine different scenarios in the applicant handbook describe issues involved with private network administration. The easiest application, not challenged by anyone, and deemed technically and financially viable in the initial review process -- and, therefore, not subject to an "extended review" -- allowing it to be approved immediately would likely be the exception. A .google or a .bmw candidate could possibly fall into the category of such fast-tracked application.
In general, nearly any applicant could end up facing two types of objection proceedings if: there are two or more applicants for the same zone name, or there is an objection to the application because the zone name is a brand name or too similar to another zone. Objections could also be raised due to a trademark or trade name violation, a breach of public or moral order, or the possibility that the planned zone could be rejected by a "considerable portion" of the target group at which it is implicitly or explicitly directed. An example of an objection raised by a target group was the conflict over .travel, which various representatives of the travel industry contested. The moral issue clearly played a role in the controversial rejection of the .xxx red light domain, hotly contested primarily by US fundamentalist evangelical groups.
A "moral objection" remains one of the most problematic sticking points against TLD applicants. Critics fear that it could be a backdoor for censorship. The currently published documentation pertaining to applications carefully states that, "Requests for the allowance of objections based on morality and public order are the subject of continuing study."
As already announced in Paris, ICANN wants to deal with objections within the framework of external arbitration procedures. To a certain extent, these would be comparable to the arbitration procedures that apply to the traditional domains, handled by arbitration bodies, such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation. However, according to ICANN's prognoses, these procedures could be much more expensive.
A worst case scenario for a TLD application might involve an applicant submitting an application for .xyz, which then is subject to an extended review procedure, in order to establish technical competence and financial feasibility. In addition, an objection based on morality or similarity to other TLDs might be submitted. Finally, the applicant could emerge victorious from the opposition proceedings only to lose the TLD to another applicant who had also applied for it. The applicant is required at the outset of the process to waive his right to seek legal recourse against the decisions or errors of ICANN. ICANN rules out any legal action against its decisions. Otherwise, it fears that it could face a wave of legal complaints. Such litigation cannot be ruled out of course considering the Byzantine twists and turns that ICANN quite expectedly incorporated into the application procedure.
- [ticker:uk_116524 WIPO warns of problems to come with new top-level Internet domains]
(Monika Ermert) /