At last weeks ICANN meeting in Singapore, the ICANN board made a historic decision, to go ahead with a program of creating many new top level generic domain names, and EFA was there. A top level domain is one at the top level of the domain system (a name like .com, or .org, or .au), and a generic name is a name that isn't a country code domain (e.g. a name like .com, rather than a country specific name like .au or .uk). What it means is that we can expect to see hundred of new top level domains, ranging from generic terms like .shop or .music, to domain names created by particular companies to support their brand (like .canon or .hitachi), and more fully international domain names (that is, domain names in languages that do not use the same alphabet as English).
This has been something ICANN has been working towards for several years (since at least 2005), and has been discussed at great length, in hundreds of separate meetings, and with the involvement of a very broad range of people, including governments, businesses, interested individuals and experts, and civil society organisations like EFA. It is not a decision taken lightly. It is still controversial, with some ICANN board members voting against it, and some government objections remaining on the record, but it is now moving forward with a definite timetable, and we can expect to see top level domains proliferating starting late next year.
Previously, ICANN carefully weighed the pros and cons of each possible domain name, and this is going to make the process much more routine. It is still no easy task to create a new top level domain name, with a complicated application process and a $185,000 dollar application fee.
EFA supports this decision. Not all of the new domain names will be useful - many of them will created purely in the hopes of attracting commercial use, and may prove to be as much of a commercial failure as domains like .biz. But the current situation of artificial scarcity and competition for a limited .com space helps no one. More importantly, we feel that many of the new domain names proposed may have important free speech or consumer benefits, and allowing generic top level domains in other scripts is essential for non-English speaking people to have true equal access to the internet.
EFA appreciates there are still imperfections in the process, and there will be a lot of discussion to follow, but the existing rules are a result of a lot of negotiation, and while there are flaws, few of those that remain are glaring. EFA still feels the rules in place still give too much power to trademark holders and individual governments, but many ICANN participants feel they give too little, and in a complex multi-stakeholder institution like ICANN, compromise is inevitable. A lot of work remains to be done, especially on support for developing nations.
EFA is always interested to hear members opinions on domain name policy issues.