ICANN Narrows New Domain Options

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has zeroed in on 10 new top-level domains, pending a vote of its board of directors that is scheduled for this week.

ICANN Friday released its analysis of the 191 top-level domains that interested parties have proposed in recent weeks. The report identifies 10 top-level domains that are the strongest contenders, including: .biz, .web, .nom, .per, .i, .name, .co-op, .union, .air and .geo. Two other domains - .museum and .health - remain in the running, but ICANN's staff has outlined significant concerns with these proposals.

Eliminated from the process were several proposals that would segregate Web content for children and adults with top-level domains including .kids and .xxx. ICANN also recommended against proposals for restricted commercial domains such as .fin for financial institutions, .travel for air transport companies and .pro for professionals.

In a surprise move, ICANN also eliminated proposals for telephony-related domains including .tel and .one in deference to a request from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). ITU sent a letter to ICANN on Nov. 1 asserting that the intersection between telephone numbering and the Domain Name System (DNS) is very complex and requires more technical analysis.

ICANN also ruled out a proposal from Novell Inc. for a .dir domain for directory services information, citing concerns that Novell's proposal did not consider directory systems from competing vendors. ICANN observers criticized the report for failing to clarify the technical and financial criteria used to whittle down the proposals.

"ICANN does not give a standard to which technical applications should rise, yet they are shooting certain applications down for being without technical merit," says Mikki Barry, president of the Domain Name Rights Coalition.

"ICANN is supposed to be focusing on the technical issues of the Internet, not reviewing business models," Barry adds. "ICANN has proven that it can't keep its own finances in line. How can they tell another company that their funding is inadequate?"

In early October, ICANN received 44 valid proposals from companies and consortia seeking to become registries of new top-level domains. Each proposal was accompanied by a $US50,000 application fee. Many of the proposals offered multiple top-level domains, resulting in a pool of 191 options from which ICANN can choose.

ICANN's staff reviewed the technical, business and financial strength of the proposals, and the results of that review were posted on its Web site early Friday morning.

For general-purpose domains, ICANN narrowed the 14 proposals down to seven finalists, all proposing .web and .biz. The two strongest proposals appear to be from: Afilias, a consortium of 19 domain name registrars including VeriSign Inc.'s Network Solutions subsidiary; and KDD Internet Solutions, a Japanese telecom company that is teamed with Network Solutions Inc. Network Solutions long held a monopoly for domain name registrations and currently is the sole registry for names in the .com, .net and .org domains and the number one registrar for names in these domains.

The heaviest competition is in the area of personal domains, where four proposals including .nom, .per, .i and .name are still pending.

For restricted domains, the three leading proposals are .co-op for cooperatives, .union for unions and .air for air transport companies.

The only domain offering a new Internet service that is still being considered is .geo, which would provide a home for geo-referenced information.

Critics like Barry are concerned that ICANN hasn't allowed enough time for people to review its 100-plus pages of findings prior to next week's vote.

"ICANN should have given people at least 90 days to review this report," she says. Barry also objects to a recent revelation that ICANN will not allow its recently elected at-large board members to vote on the new top-level domains. Instead, the decision will be made by its current board of directors, including appointed chair Esther Dyson.

In other domain name news, several of the world's large domain name registrars this week began selling multilingual domain names, despite a recommendation from the Internet Society that this initiative be delayed because it will harm the stability of the Internet's DNS.

VeriSign Global Registry Services now accepts domain names in Chinese, Japanese and Korean for the .com, .net and .org domains. VeriSign's Network Solutions subsidiary is among 22 registrars selling the names. Buyers are expected to be multinational corporations looking to retain their company and product names in Asian languages.

VeriSign officials moved forward with the multilingual test bed despite concerns from the Internet Society, which oversees the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Architecture Board. The Internet Society asked that the multilingual test bed be delayed until the Internet Engineering Task Force can develop a proposed standard for internationalized domain names.

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