Help Us Shape The Internet's Future

ALAC Comments to the GNSO's New gTLDs Committee

6 May 2003

The At-Large Advisory Committee welcomes the opportunity to submit
comments on the two issues on the table regarding new gTLDs:

  1. Criteria for introduction of a limited number of sponsored
    gTLDs as part of the Board's "proof of concept" initial round of TLD
  2. Whether to structure the evolution of the generic top level
    namespace in if so, how to do so.


At-large Internet users are both domain name registrants and users of
the domain name system. As users, they are well served by TLDs that
are not confusingly similar, enabling them to differentiate the names
they encounter and minimize typographic or semantic mistakes; they
are also served by a namespace that is inclusive and provides access
to a wide variety of speakers and information sources. As
registrants, the "at large" are perhaps the most likely to be
underserved by community-defined, chartered gTLDs. Not all
individuals are necessarily a part of any of these communities, yet
they will want places to publicize their small businesses, engage in
political debate, discuss their interests, and host weblogs, to name
a few. Categorization and eligibility requirements will often act as
barriers to entry to such registrants. As a whole, at-large
registrants are most likely to be served by a range of TLD options
available to all potential registrants, including a variety of true
generics for those that do not fit in neat categories.

These interests are compatible; confusion can be minimized without
narrowly structuring registrations. They are also compatible with
ICANN's limited mandate. ICANN should not be setting itself up as
judge of the utility or fitness of business plans, but only as a
technical judge of what is likely to create confusion or interfere
with the functioning of the domain name system.

I. Criteria to Be Used in the Selection of New Sponsored Top-Level Domains

References: ICANN Paper <>
Report on Compliance by Sponsored gTLDs with the Registration
Requirements of Their Charters

Both the paper and report on existing sponsored TLDs err in focusing
primarily on exclusion: Do the sponsored gTLDs represent a limited
community and adhere to their charters by permitting registrants only
from within that community? The question more important to the
public's communicative goals, however, is the flip side: Are there
people or organizations who are left without logical places to
register domain names, or who are denied registration in a sponsored
TLD whose charter they fit? It is easy to make the error rate
arbitrarily low by asking questions that examine only one kind of
error -- gTLDs could block all cybersquatters simply by refusing any
registrations, but that would hardly serve the point of adding new

Instead, the Board should look, in both the sponsored additions and
in the general question of "structure," to ensuring that all who want
to establish online presences can obtain domain names.

Financial qualifications and entry fees can be barriers to entry of
new and smaller gTLD participants, as well as to non-profits. While
fees may be necessary to discourage spurious applications and to
recover assessment costs, minimal criteria can help to minimize costs
and fees. ICANN should examine the possible introduction of a second,
lower fee scale for non-profit applicants.

II. Whether the Generic Top-Level Namespace Should Be Structured

References: Draft 3.1.2 of the ICANN GNSO Council gTLDS committee
report ("Draft")

At this stage, there appears to be general consensus on the GNSO
gTLDs Committee to advise against "structure" in the first instance.
As the Draft states, "It was agreed that a future expansion of the
gTLD name space should take place in such a way that was
demand-driven and bottom-up and in a way that increased competition
while avoiding net user confusion and deception. To the extent that
this report has a set of recommendations, it would seem there is
support for the idea that the structure of the future gTLD namespace
should be structured determined in a number of ways primarily by the
choices of suppliers and end users in the market." The ALAC supports
this recommendation.

Market participants, including both businesses and non-commercial
organizations, users and suppliers, are better positioned to indicate
where new TLDs are needed through demand and willingness to supply.
The ALAC supports the proposition that proposal of a name by a
competent registry/delegant/sponsor provides as much
"differentiation" as is necessary. (Draft para. 14) Every TLD has a
natural monopoly in the SLDs registered under it, but ICANN policy
should not extend that monopoly any further. Put slightly
differently, a name should be acceptable within any gTLD structure if
users want it and it does no harm to the domain name system.

In order for market determination to be successful, ICANN must enable
a genuine competitive market to develop. At present, there appears to
be some tension between market competition and desire to protect
registrants from the consequences of registry failure (Draft paras.
10-12). The intermediate road ICANN has taken, a heavily regulated
market (rather than free market or openly acknowledged planning),
tends to produce false assumptions and conclusions about what "the
market" will support (and thus to justify further planning). The ALAC
supports the Draft's recommendations that zone file escrow and
transfer arrangements be investigated as ways to mitigate registry
failure. The ALAC also recommends further examination of separation
of the policy and technical roles of new-TLD-registries, as suggested
in Ross Rader's proposal for distinct Delegants (policy) and
Operators (technical), see

Consistent with openness to a variety of names and business models,
ALAC supports expansion that allows both sponsored and unsponsored
names. (Draft para 15) Along with Milton Mueller and Lee McKnight,
"We do not oppose and may often favor the creation of new TLDs that
are sponsored and restricted. But many users have no interest in or
need for authenticated and restricted domains. That is why there are
thousands of times more registrations in open domains than in
restricted domains." Mueller & Mc Knight, "The post-.COM Internet,"

IDNs: Any evaluation of IDNgTLDs (internationalized domain name
generic TLDs) should ensure participation in the linguistic review
for confusion by the language community that would primarily use and
be affected by the IDN policy. The ALAC plans to discuss IDNs in
more detail in a separate document.