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TLDs, ".web", ICANN, Afilias and IODesign

The battle for the future of the Internet

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A large and nasty battle has broken out over ownership for the new ".web" top-level domain name, to be awarded at some random time in the future (hopefully this year). Aside from the ever-present arguments over the Internet (capitalism vs individual freedom), however, things have grown a little more serious with allegations of corruption and heavy conflicts of interest.

There is little doubt in most people's minds that the TLD ".web" will be by far the most important of the new raft of domain names, which include things like .kids, .travel and .biz. What we are talking about here is control of the root so anything ending with that particular ending will be registered through one company.

Since everyone has fully woken up to the Internet and is ready to battle for their slice of the cyberworld, the .web TLD was always going to be hotly contested. However events have left some fuming, others concerned and the usual crew running around screaming: "conspiracy! conspiracy!"

According to ICANN's own site (as of 17 October, after the final deadline) there is only one application for the .web domain. This is from a company called Image Online Design (IOD), which has been working on the .web domain for about four years. However it would appear that a consortium named Afilias also put in an application at the last minute.

There's a few things you need to know about Afilias. It is a consortium of 19 registrars, including many of the largest in existence. Network Solutions, CORE, Register.com and Tucows.com are all members. It was formed in September this year. It has also applied for the .biz and .info TLDs. It has offered a "sunrise" period for trademark holders in which companies holding trademarks would be entitled to put claim to them (eg nike.web) before individuals enter into the process. Some estimate this will represent reach 500,000 domain names before the market is opened.

If you know anything about the dichotomy of Web culture, you will have already seen the arguments coming. Afilias is thus capitalist, corporate scum, putting companies above the original freedom of the Net. That the Web is being widened and already looks as though it has been monopolised by big business is a depressing prospect for many. Meanwhile, Afilias talks the talk and provides the goods because it is larger, richer and more efficient (and hungry for profit and power).

Corruption, conflict of interests, arrogance

Afilias will justifiably win the right to run .web but there are some very serious questions that need to be answered before it takes it. One, why was it set up so late in the day? Two, why was its application posted so late and why can't we find it on the ICANN Web site? But these are small fry.

Since ICANN got into financial troubles because many of the world's countries refused to pay subscription fees as they were unhappy with its conduct, the company that has somehow cut more and more of the Internet for itself while remaining uncomfortable secretive, has received heavy funding from commercial companies. Among the most generous have been Network Solutions and Register.com. As ICANN gets to decide who runs the different arms of the Internet, this raises an eyebrow or three.

Another source of concern is the figure of Ken Stubbs. Ken has been involved with the Internet for a long while, even to the extent of giving a speech to the US House of Representatives on Net intellectual property rights. He is also in a difficult position and facing a heavy conflict of interests. Ken is chairman of the Names Council for DNSO, an offshoot of ICANN. As such he has a decisive impact on which companies are successful with their bids for new TLDs.

Unfortunately, he is also chairman of CORE (an Afilias member), on the board of directors for Afilias, and a figure within iDomains - all of which are applying for the very domains he decides upon.

Now we aren't conspiracy theorists but how Mr Stubbs' chairmanship remains tenable is a mystery to us. He ought to relinquish it immediately and apply to regain it once the new TLDs are decided. This is commonsense.

ICANN has made no friends since it has been running the show, as has been demonstrated by the landslide victories for the five new ICANN representatives. All were democratically elected and most called for the ICANN bosses' heads during electioneering. The top men will leave, but not before the new TLDs have been decided.

Afiliate will win the .web root and it deserves to (we'll go into why in a second). But if ICANN were any sort of an organisation it would impose significant constraints and rules on its behaviour and constituents.

Why should Afilias take the .web TLD?
First of all, enough moaning about capitalist companies winning contracts. What the hell do you expect? We live in a capitalist culture - and have you noticed that it is only very rich capitalist countries that have anything to do with the Internet? How many children in Africa have you seen tapping away on their keyboards? Live with it - or else stop buying Nike trainers, Ariel washing powder, Ralph Lauren jackets etc etc etc ad nauseam.

The fact is that the .web domain will be huge and IOD simply isn't up to the job. Yes, it may have spent four years working on it but it obviously hasn't been working very hard. Its Web site is dreadful and its application lacklustre. It is too small and seems to have forgotten that there is a world outside of the US. It's not good enough.

While Afilias has become the new Net devil incarnate, it will nevertheless do a better job than everyone else. What about the Sunrise policy? Ever thought that it might just be pre-empting years of legal troubles? You only need to look at WIPO to see that the decisions are going that way anyway.

We're not saying it's right, we're just saying it's realistic. Afilias also has registrars from all over the world. It's a better choice. Full stop (period, to our American cousins).

However, there is a good parody site for Afilias here. ®

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