Made in the USA: The World Wide Web

ByLeslie Yeransian

June 5, 2006 — -- "Made in the USA" is the tag the World Wide Web has worn since its inception, through U.S.-centric domain names like .com and .gov. So why isn't the Internet reflecting our technically saavy global world by adding a new generation of domain-names? Is Washington worried about losing its control of the Web?

As the World Wide Web evolves, many expect the use of top-level domain names (the codes at the end of Web addresses used as identifiers) to expand the way it organizes and catalogs topics, eventually even broadening to include other languages with different alphabets.

However, in the most recent round of domain-name applications, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gave a pass only to a handful of names: .jobs, .mobi, .aero and .travel. Other more edgy, more international names were rejected. Among those: .xxx, .post, .asia and .mail. ICANN also gave a no-go to about half of the newly proposed generation of top-level domain names.

The argument for creating a new generation of domain names is that it will make the Web easier to navigate. Currently, there are 18 top-level domains that have gained ICANN's approval. One of those is .travel -- a new top-level name servicing the global travel and tourism community -- which earned the official top-level domain stamp of approval in May 2005.

Tralliance Corp. operates the .travel domain. It took Tralliance $50,000 just to apply for the top-level domain through ICANN and five years of Tralliance's attention to the project to gain the approval.

As far as Tralliance is concerned, waiting for ICANN to approve .travel was well worth the wait. The domain name has registered tens of thousands of names to the site, primarily tied to provinces in Canada.

Ron Andruff of Tralliance said the Internet should allow more top-level domains into the World Wide Web and do it at a faster rate.

"Google is the first to admit it can only catalog 5 percent of the Internet," he said.

It may be that there's more of an upside than a downside when it comes to allowing new names into the market.

"It's the logical expansion of the Internet," he said. "Cataloging will take you more efficiently and rapidly to the information you need."

So what's stopping this new generation of domain names from evolving? Andruff acknowledged there were political reasons tying up ICANN's release of top-level domain names.

"The power of the Internet should really be in no one's hands," he said, but the reality is the U.S. government is still reluctant to let ICANN release top-level domain names for fear of losing such control.

Many new top-level domains are restricted to a certain group of people or an industry. This exclusivity is a good thing as far as Andruff is concerned, citing the most recent triple-X proposal as a prime example. "Putting all the pornography sites under the same name space would allow for easy locking ... it raises the trust level," Andruff said.

The Bush administration made it clear that ICANN was not an independent organization when, just last summer, the government overruled ICANN's decision to launch the new domain .xxx. ICANNWatch reported at the time, "By blocking approval of the .xxx domain, the U.S. government has done more to undermine ICANN's status as a nongovernmental, multi-stakeholder policy body than any of its Internet governance 'enemies' in the ITU, China, Brazil or Iran."

Many said the U.S. government should carry no weight in the approval of domain names, and allowing for this new generation of top-level domain names is crucial to the Internet's evolution.

Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and outside counsel to ICM Registry for free expression issues, wants names like .xxx to gain approval. "We're seeking reconsideration for .xxx and we're trying to get to the bottom of what happened."

Corn-Revere is upset because ICANN is supposed to function independently and not implement government policy. "We discovered through an FOIA request that the U.S. Commerce Department intervened." Corn-Revere said his research into the matter showed that some religious rights groups pressured ICANN not to go through with the approval of .xxx. Some say what happened to the .xxx domain is the government interfering with individuals' freedom.

Some politicians want to keep control of the Internet. They say it was started in the United States and should remain under the U.S. thumb by maintaining a core of domain names, like the original generation: .com, .net, .org. The concern is that a new generation of top-level domain names could weaken control of the Internet.

Milton Mueller, partner of the Internet Governance Project, said the U.S. government should not worry about adding more top-level domain names -- that's not what threatens the U.S. control of the Internet. Mueller said the greater concern is internationalized domain names (those that include foreign characters). "That's more of a political minefield" because that allows China and other countries to take a share of the Internet.

In the long run, Mueller sees adding more top-level domain names as a good thing: "It adds a little more diversity and a little more competition; it doesn't threaten anyone's control of the Internet."

Mueller said the government didn't approve the domain .xxx because it would look like the government was legitimizing pornography. Mueller believes a lot would have to change before a domain like .xxx received approval.

"It would mean that the people at ICANN would have to either get a backbone or a lawsuit," Mueller said.

Tanzanica King of ICANN said no more top-level domain application periods have been announced.

"As far as I know, in the upcoming years, there could be less than 18 -- what there are now," King said.

One thing King does know for sure is that this September ICANN's Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. government will be up, signaling the possible end of ICANN's need to report to Washington.

Up to now, there have only been two opportunities for the public to submit a top-level domain. King said ICANN accepted or rejected the names for many reasons, but the two most obvious are whether the domain is useful and whether it can be technologically supported.

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