What's in a Name? When it comes to Internet Domains a Whole Lot and a Whole Lot More

By Peter Bernstein October 13, 2014

The subject of Internet domain names may seem boring to many readers.  However, don’t be fooled. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) performance during its over two year effort to add as many as 1,400 new Top Level Domain (gTLDs) web site suffixes— expanding from the familiar .com, .net and .org—has been contentious and the opposite of boring to say the least.  Indeed, many have called the administration of this process akin to the “Digital Anarchy” that ICANN’s new process for apportioning out names was supposed to address.

For those of you not keeping score at home, the past week is a good illustration of the “Alice in Wonderland” aspects of the process of determining who gets ownership, of what domain. There are rules that apply to all of this, which you can check out on the gTLD part of the ICANN website, which delineate the domain delegation application procedures. They also highlight, for lack of a better term, who has standing and why for consideration as a community of interest worthy of a domain, or a commercial one that needs to be part of an interesting auction process.  Enjoy!

The rather surreal news on this front the past few days was on two fronts last week. They are a mixed bag of good and bad news depending on your perspective on such things. 

First, as documented by Marc Naimark on Slate, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has been contracted by ICANN to process applications rejected one from dotgay LLC. This was a group put together to obtain the .gay domain under the “community priority evaluation” process. (It should be noted there are three competing commercial interests seeking this domain). To put it simply dotgay was seeking the domain on community criteria based on its representing the broad interests of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Questioning (LBGTQ) community. It was formed out of fears that if the domain falls into the wrong hands it will be used as a means to bash members of the LBGTQ community around the world.  Their application was turned down, as the article points out using some convoluted thinking and odd interpretations of process guidelines. The rejection means .gay is now up for auction.

As Naimark points out in the posting, “Certainly, ICANN has shown itself deaf to nonfinancial interests. In the release that announced the failure of dotgay LLC, ICANN said that .hotel would be an approved community domain name. Hotels are a community, gays aren’t. There’s something wrong with a system that gives such crazy results.”  He also notes the campaign for those not happy with the decision who are using the #ICANNisBroken aimed at @ICANN social media accounts to express their displeasure.

The second ICANN is that a coalition of 50 environmental groups assembled by Canadian company Big Room Inc., is going for the .eco domain. It is hoping that despite the high bar set in the ICANN scoring system for applications that it can succeed where dotgay LLC failed. 

All of this has become a political hot potato. Back in May, Amazon lost a bid to get the .amazon name in the face of opposition from Latin American governments. Winemakers in Europe, Australia and California and the French government are not thrilled by .wine and .vin being created. 

Plus, all of this is coming to a head as the U.S. Department of Commerce, much to the chagrin of European regulators, are getting ready to grant ICANN full autonomy over the web. As the Slate article and many others on the subject have noted, such a decision has caused a rift in U.S. relations with the EU and the United Nations because of concerns that ICANN favors commercial interests over broader community ones, especially when it comes to human rights concerns. In fact, this makes the decision about .gay all the more compelling since it bolsters the case of those who feel ICANN is broken.

What’s in a name?  When it comes to the Internet, what is in a domain name that is extraordinarily valuable? Without passing judgment on ICANN, while the motives for expanding the gTLDs makes sense, it is not surprising that no matter how they decided to delegate names there was going to be an uproar.

This has been a long and tortuous process just to get to where ICANN is actually delegating domain names.  Based on the amount of contention we have a long way to go, and ICANN could end up being a victim of it perceived lack of equity in the process.  Fasten your seat belts, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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