FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2000) - After simmering on the back burner for several years, the debate over new Internet domains - such as .web and .arts - will reach full boil next week at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meeting in Cairo.
Observers say ICANN will probably adopt new global top-level domains (gTLD) before year-end.
At issue are how many new domains are adopted, what domains are chosen, how quickly they roll out and what protections are provided for trademark owners.
New gTLDs cause legal and management headaches for corporations that feel compelled to protect their brand names in every domain. Most U.S. companies want only a few new gTLDs to be approved, and they want owners of existing domain names to get the first right of refusal for the same names in the new gTLDs.
Meanwhile, domain name registrars, entrepreneurs and non-U.S. companies are pushing for hundreds of new gTLDs to be adopted quickly and without as many provisions to protect corporate interests. This camp argues for selling names in new gTLDs on a first-come, first-serve basis so new ventures can choose from an abundance of possible names.
About 200 Internet executives and users are expected to attend the meeting.
"To some extent, the debate is the old guard vs. the Young Turks, or North America vs. the rest of the world,'' says Bill Washburn, chief policy officer at RealNames and a participant in ICANN's business and commercial constituency.
"The large trademark owners and the existing corporations on the Internet . . . have huge pressures on them to keep a lid on gTLDs if they can.''The 19-member ICANN board, which is supposed to represent the consensus view of the Internet community, will vote to determine the policy on new gTLDs.
Seven new gTLDs - .store, .web, .firm, .nom, .arts, .info and .rec - were proposed by an ad hoc Internet committee about five years ago. The proposal was shelved as the Clinton administration tackled the larger issue of migrating the management of Internet domain names from a government contractor to a nonprofit organization that later became ICANN.
"New gTLDs have been the catalyst for creating ICANN all along,'' Washburn says. "For ICANN, this debate is the heart of the matter.''ICANN's working group on gTLDs recommends running a test bed with six to 10 new gTLDs. However, the group doesn't agree on whether the new gTLDs should be general-purpose such as .web or special-purpose such as .kids.
Proponents of specialpurpose domains say they will help consumers find content and minimize confusion for companies doing business on the 'Net. But it is unclear what organization would govern the awarding of names in these domains to ensure, for example, that pornography is not distributed in the .kids domain.
"The companies that don't want to see any new gTLDs are more comfortable with chartered ones like .kids,'' says Bret Fausett, a partner with the Boston law firm Fausett, Gaeta & Lund. "There's not a lot of corporate interest in setting up new generic gTLDs like .web unless there is a policy that gives owners of .com, .org and .net names first dibs. Otherwise the cybersquatting problem will be multiplied by a factor of 10.''The ICANN board is expected to vote in favor of moving forward with new gTLDs at the Cairo meeting, but the details will be debated for months. Observers say the earliest ICANN's board might approve a comprehensive gTLD strategy would be at its July meeting in Japan.