New TLDs and National Monopolies

The Paris ICANN meeting lurched to an end two weeks ago, but something about the following episode stuck in my mind and won’t go away.

At the final Board meeting, as ICANN passed its policy authorizing the creation of new generic top level domains, GAC spokesperson Janis Karklins expressed the governments’ concerns that not enough attention had been paid to promoting competition in the formulation of the policy. A reasonable and good sentiment, that. But wait: hasn’t the GAC also been insisting that existing country code top level domain monopolies be given new TLDs in any language scripts of their choosing? And didn’t GAC members also advocate that these new “internationalized” top level domains be handed to the incumbent ccTLD monopolies without being attached to any ICANN contract? Isn't this the same Janis Karklins who said in the same meeting that ccTLDs should get new multilingual TLDs “without any compulsory financial arrangements?”

In other words, while private and commercial competitors will pay millions to go through the difficult and treacherous ICANN beauty contests and possibly even auctions, ccTLDs are supposed to be handed new IDNs for free. At times, it appears to me that ICANN’s ccTLD fast track is a conspiracy between governments and incumbent ccTLD monopolies to give the ccTLDs privileged and accelerated entry into the market for multilingual domain names in their country. It signifies the capture of a significant part of the DNS policy making environment by incumbent operators backed by their states. It is hypocritical for GAC to talk of pro-competition policy when it comes to gTLDs while helping to usher in a powerful reinforcement of national ccTLD monopolies under the cover of claims of “sovereignty” and “national language.”

In general, the IDN ccTLD debate shows how far the Twomey administration might go to bow to the demands of national states to assert privileges and control over the Internet. In addition to the market entry issue, governments are asserting exclusive property rights over country names and tens if not hundreds of variants. Some are even demanding a right to veto any TLD proposal in “their” national language. It will be deeply revealing to see how the ccTLD fast track evolves alongside ICANN's much more publicly heralded new gTLD process.

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