15 February 2011
More delays likely for .kiwi and .fonterra
For several years, big brands have been hoping to acquire email addresses ending with a name or brand of their choice. Adult websites have also been hoping to get the .xxx domain. But achieving this is proving harder than anyone other than a cynic with a knowledge of international negotiations would have imagined.
ICANN, an international body whose job it is to co-ordinate the website and email naming protocols for the internet, has the task of coming up with an agreed protocol for allowing these and other new top level domains (TLDs) to be created.
To reach another person on the internet you have to type an address into your computer - a name or a number. That address has to be unique so computers know where to find each other.
In the early days of the internet, a three level address format was agreed. The TLDs were either generic (like .com, .org, .net or .gov) or based in ISO country codes (like .nz for New Zealand or .nu for Niue). Later, more generics were added, including .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro, bringing the total number of generics up to 21 today.
While ICANN has made it clear that it wants to start allocating new TLDs, the stance of the US Government and ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) are proving problematic. While the internet and ICANN are meant to stand for freedom of information, in practice many representatives of national internet organisations are beholden to the wishes of their less-than-democratic governments.
GAC's concerns include trademark protection and the treatment of geographic strings. As for the US Government, they want to be given the right to veto any TLD they are unhappy with. Since GAC operates by consensus, this would likely open the censorship floodgates.
According to Kevin Murphy, a journalist who specialises in internet affairs, if Uganda objected to .gay, Iran objected to .jewish, or Egypt objected to .twitter, then TLD applications for these names would be killed off.
In addition, the US wants TLDs that refer to sectors subject to national regulation (such as .bank, .pharmacy) to be more closely regulated (or blocked altogether). It also wants “community” applications more strictly defined. In both cases, the US wants the applicant to be sanctioned by the recognised representative body for the sector or community. No recognition would mean no TLD.
The aim here is noble – no one wants .bank or .pharmacy to be run by hucksters or the TLD for a religion, ethnic group or race to be snaffled by an outfit with an opposing creed. But, as Murphy points out, how many industries, religions and ethnic groups have a recognised entity overseeing them globally?
The Kiwi brand