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ICANN goes domain crazy

New .mobi and .jobs, a shift in the ownership of .net

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Internet overseeing organisation ICANN has rediscovered its love of top-level domains, announcing this week that it has put another two through to final approval stages, as well as approving the document that will be used to decide the new owner of all .net domains next year.

A special meeting of the Board yesterday resolved that both .jobs and, more controversially, .mobi had passed all the required criteria and it would now enter into in-depth negotiations about how precisely the two companies behind the bids will run the new domains.

ICANN has previously pushed .post and .travel through to its final negotiation stage in October.

In an earlier Board meeting this month at its annual conference in South Africa, the Board also approved the RFP - Request for Proposals - document that would be used to decide which company is best suited to take over the five million or so .net domains from 30 June 2005. The document has just been made publicly available [pdf].

The initial approval of more so-called "sponsored" top-level domains - or sTLDs - is a step forward for ICANN. It has faced heavy criticism for years for not following one of the main reasons for its establishment - namely using its position as naming authority to enhance competition and choice on the Internet.

Of the ten proposed, four have now gone (jobs, mobi, post, travel) through the process; and Kurt Pritz, VP of business operations, said at a recent meeting that the remainder should be through by February - although at least one will be dropped, as there are two pitches for .tel.

The process used to decide the sTLDs has, by most accounts, proved far superior to the previous new TLD process that created .aero, .biz, .info and .name and three others in November 2000. ICANN will publish the full details of the whole process once it is completed, Pritz said, and it will then be used as the framework for the approval of new global TLDs in future.

However, in the meantime, the .mobi domain looks set to become one of the most controversial elements of the internet. Its sponsoring company "Mobi JV" is a consortium of Microsoft, Nokia and Vodafone - three of the most powerful and well-known companies in the world today.

Finally, the much-argued point over whether .com will ever become just a top-level domain rather than "the Internet" will be tested.

ICANN will also be fighting on another level with VeriSign - the current registry for all .net and .com domains. VeriSign is allowed to re-pitch for the .net domain and it wants to keep it. VeriSign is already embroiled in a big legal dispute with ICANN and the company still sees itself as the true owner of the Internet since it was established long before ICANN. This taut relationship has seen VeriSign win more battles with ICANN than it has lost.

VeriSign's ability to get its point of view stuck in was also the cause of some irritation to ICANN CEO Paul Twomey during a press conference at the end of its South Africa meetings. Asked repeatedly what changes had been made most recently to the documents, often in regard to what or what was not now included, he grew frustrated at what were clearly VeriSign-inspired doubts.

All proposals for taking over .net will have to be in by the end of January 2005, and the decision over who will run it will be taken in March 2005.

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, the ICANN community remains very active in its frustration over the lack of new global TLDs. Twomey has been careful not to rock the boat one way or the other but a fascinating exchange between the ICANN Board and its members at a public meeting in South Africa seemed to make it very clear that the only thing that was holding back new gTLDs was the opinion of old Board members themselves - most notably dinosaur Vint Cerf.

How long members can be held back with ICANN's freshly stated believe in bottom-up consensus by the old guard is something that will make interesting viewing, particularly with Paul Twomey determined to brush away the cobwebs of the past.

The main argument argument against new gTLDs - that it would threaten the stability of the Internet - was given a nasty blow during the public discussion when the two Board members most set against it had to admit that the number of gTLDs could double with the slightest problem.

You can read the whole argument at http://www.icann.org/meetings/capetown/captioning-public-forum-1-03dec04.htm - scroll about half way down.

And so it seems the Internet is finally getting bigger and ICANN is finally doing the job it was set up to do. Both are good things in our book. ®

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