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ICANN Reviews Changes in DNS Policy and Legal Issues

Magazine article Information Today

ICANN Reviews Changes in DNS Policy and Legal Issues

Article excerpt

One of the more interesting facts about the Internet is that no one person, corporation, government, or group runs it as a whole. Different organizations are responsible for different operations: setting and managing technical standards, Internet architecture, and the domain name system (DNS). And, of course, the Internet's information resources are provided by thousands of unique content suppliers.

The absence of a single entity for governance has apparently not limited the Internet as shown by its phenomenal growth during the last 10 years. However, legal and policy questions--along with questions about the future of the Internet--are often challenged by the Internet's fluid governance structure.

ICANN's Role

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is one of the larger and more formal operations involved in Internet governance. It was created in 1998 to provide a central coordination point for much of the Internet's DNS, including accrediting DNS registrars and determining top-level domains. ICANN was established as a nonprofit corporation with a global focus and mission, but it is accountable to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The ICANN board recently held a public meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to address policy and legal challenges that have grown along with increased complexities of the DNS structure. The original .com, .org, and .net domains have become crowded and cluttered (as of February 2007, there were more than 64 million registered .com domains), which raised concerns about user confusion. New top-level domains were needed to relieve the clutter and to allow more focused domains for business and cultural Web sites. ICANN has approved several in recent years. These include broad domains such as .info, .biz, .name, and .int, as well as specific top-level domains such as .aero for the aerospace industry, .cat for the Catalan language and culture, and .travel for travel-related industries.

Non-Latin Character Domains

At its recent meeting, ICANN also explored the possibility of establishing top-level domains using non-Latin (e.g., a, b, c) characters. While most countries have their own two-letter domains (such as .uk for the U.K., .ru for Russia, and .ca for Canada), they all use the Latin alphabet. The introduction of Cyrillic, Greek, Chinese, Arabic, and other character sets into the domain structure is an important step toward making Internet resources available to a more global audience, particularly in developing nations.

While limited workarounds for domain names with non-Latin characters are available, they are cumbersome. The ICANN board passed a resolution seeking a "collaborative" solution to the existing technical limitations, and it is requesting reports from several organizations by its next meeting in October.

Generic Top-Level Domains

The ICANN board also debated policy concerns related to the introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Generic top-level domains have expanded from the original six (.com, .net, etc.) to 19, with an additional four still under consideration. The rejection of the proposed .xxx gTLD (intended to be used by the "adult" industry) and concerns about misuse of new gTLDs by cybersquatters and phishers led to a list of 20 recommendations for proposing new gTLDs.

While most of the recommendations are noncontroversial, three of the 20 generated some concerns. One recommendation suggests that proposed gTLDs should not "infringe the existing legal rights of others. …

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