This document is Part One of the Report of Working Group C. It sets out the rough consensus of the group regarding whether there should be new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), and if so, how quickly they should be added to the root as an initial matter.
Working Group C has reached rough consensus on two issues. The first is that ICANN should add new gTLDs to the root. The second is that ICANN should begin the deployment of new gTLDs with an initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs, followed by an evaluation period. This report will address each of these issues separately. For each of the issues, it will summarize the discussions within the working group, arguments pro and con, and comments received from the public. It will then briefly summarize the ongoing work of the group.
The Names Council approved the charter of Working Group C on June 25, 1999, and named Javier Sola (Business constituency) as its chair. On July 29, the working group members elected Jonathan Weinberg co-chair. The working group includes extensive representation from each of the constituencies. It is open to anyone who wishes to join, and currently has about 140 members, many of whom are inactive. (For most of the life of the working group, no NSI representative participated. When WG-C's co-chair solicited greater participation from the Registry constituency, Don Telage explained that NSI had chosen not to involve itself in the WG-C process. That representational gap has been filled now that Roger Cochetti and Tony Rutkowski, WG-C members from the start, have joined NSI in senior policymaking capacities.)
On October 23, 1999, the Working Group released its Interim Report. That report described the issues on which the Working Group had reached rough consensus to date. It also included seven "position papers," setting out alternative scenarios for the introduction of new gTLDs. Those position papers usefully illustrate alternate approaches to expanding the name space, and address a broader range of issues than does this Report; they are available at http://www.dnso.org/dnso/notes/19991023.NCwgc-report.html.
On November 23, 1999, the Names Council formally requested public comment on the Interim Report. This call for comments was publicized on a variety of mailing lists maintained by the DNSO, including ga-announce, ga, and liaison7c (which includes the constituency secretariats). In addition, WG-C's co-chair spoke at the meetings of most of the constituencies at the Los Angeles ICANN meeting, and urged constituency members to file comments. Nearly 300 comments were filed in response to the interim report. They included responses from leading members of all of the constituencies but two - the record does not include comments from the ccTLD or Registry constituencies (although ccTLD members participated in the discussions that led to the Interim Report, and WG-C's co-chair expressly solicited the comments of both of those groups).
The initial draft of this report was circulated to the working group on March 2, 2000, and the report was presented to the Names Council on March 8. The working group approved this revised version of the report in a vote that closed on March 20.
The working group quickly -- by mid-July, 1999 -- reached consensus that there should be new global top-level domains. There was very little dissent from this position.
Expanding the number of TLDs will increase consumer choice, and create opportunities for entities that have been shut out under the current name structure. Today, .com stands astride the name space: it has more registrations than all other top-level domain names combined, and is ten times the size of the largest ccTLD. Yet it has become nearly impossible to register a new simple domain name there: Almost a year ago, in April 1999, a survey found that of 25,500 standard English-language dictionary words, only 1,760 were free in the .com domain.
This situation is undesirable. It requires companies to register increasingly unwieldy domain names for themselves, and is inflating the value of the secondary (speculators') market in .com domain names. Existing second-level domain names under the .com TLD routinely change hands for enormously inflated prices. These are legitimate trades of ordinary, untrademarked words; their high prices reflect the artificial scarcity of common names in existing gTLDs, and the premium on .com names in particular. The inflated value of the speculators' market imposes additional costs on businesses making defensive registrations of domain names.
Companies that currently have a domain name in the form of company.com have an extremely important marketing and name-recognition tool. They have an advantage over all other companies that do not have addresses in that form, because the companyname.com firms are the ones that consumers, surfing the Net, will be able to find most easily. If the name space is expanded, companies will be able to get easy-to-remember domain names more easily, and the entry barriers to successful participation in electronic commerce will be lowered. Addition of new gTLDs will allow different companies to have the same second-level domain name in different TLDs. Those businesses will have to compete based on price, quality and service, rather than on the happenstance of which company locked up the most desirable domain name first.
Similarly, addition of new gTLDs could enlarge noncommercial name space, and allow the creation of top-level domains designed to serve noncommercial goals. One proposal made in WG-C, widely applauded in the public comments, advocated the creation of a new top-level domain to be operated by North American indigenous peoples. Other examples are easy to imagine.
Creation of new generic top-level domains can be beneficial in other respects. One proposal before WG-C, with significant support, urges the creation of multiple registries, each capable of managing registrations for multiple TLDs, so as to eliminate the single point of failure for the registration process. Under this view, multiple new gTLDs are necessary to support the multiple registries needed for stability.
Adding new gTLDs to the root, finally, is an important part of ICANN's mandate. ICANN was created because the institutions that preceded it were unable to resolve the intense political and economic conflicts created by demand for new top-level domain names. The U.S. Department of Commerce's White Paper saw the establishment of policy "for determining the circumstances under which new TLDs are added to the root system" as one of ICANN's fundamental goals.
Three arguments were made in WG-C that cut against the addition of new gTLDs. First, some working group members suggested that the perceived need for new gTLDs was illusory. Public commenters raising this issue included Bell Atlantic and Marilyn Cade.
Second, some working group members suggested that an increase in the number of top-level domains could confuse consumers, because it would be harder for consumers to keep in mind and remember a larger set of top-level domains. Accordingly, any increase in the number of new gTLDs should be cautious. Notwithstanding requests, though, no working group member offered studies or other evidence backing up this view.
Finally, some working group members raised trademark policing concerns: Expansion of the domain space will create additional opportunities for the registration of domain names that are confusingly similar to existing trademarks. It will present a risk that bad actors will seek to confuse consumers by registering SLD strings identical to those registered by others in other TLDs. It will likely increase trademark owners' policing costs and the costs of defensive registrations.
The relationship between domain names and trademark rights presents an important and difficult issue, and is appropriately addressed by registry data maintenance requirements, dispute resolution mechanisms such as the UDRP, and any other device that ICANN may choose to adopt, as well as by national legislation. Trademark owners' concerns in this regard are important ones, and not to be overlooked. In public comments on the Interim Report, a substantial number of commenters urged that deployment should be delayed until after implementation of the uniform dispute resolution procedure, improved domain name registration procedures, and adoption of a system for protecting famous marks. They included, among others, Jonathan Cohen (then an NC member, IPC), Dr. Victoria Carrington, AOL, British Telecom, Disney, INTA, Nintendo of America and Time Warner. Steven Metalitz expressed a similar view: "New gTLD's should be inaugurated only when, and to the extent that, established and proven procedures are in place in the existing gTLD's to improve the quality and accessibility of registrant contact data, as well as satisfactory dispute resolution procedures." The comments of the WG-C Rapporteur of the Business & Commercial constituency urged, on behalf of the constituency, that "business requirements such as the effective implementation of the UDRP and international business practices such as jurisdictional domains"should be addressed satisfactorily before new gTLDs are deployed. The Software and Information Industry Association noted its support for adding new gTLDs, but only after the creation of a robust, responsive whois system.
Other commenters, by contrast, do not believe that trademark-related concerns justify delay in the introduction of new gTLDs. These included Hirofumi Hotta (NC member, ISPCPC) (emphasizing that discussion of famous-mark protection should not delay the gTLD rollout), Kathryn Kleiman (NC member, NCDNHC), Michael Schneider (NC member, ISPCPC), Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Melbourne IT, AXISNET (Peruvian Association of Users and ISPs), the United States Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, Register.com, InterWorking Labs, Tucows.com, InterAccess Company and PSI-Japan. Raul Echeberria (then an NC member, NCDNHC) filed comments urging that the establishment of new gTLDs was important and positive, but that rules should be devised to avoid massive speculative purchases of domains in the new TLDs, or trademark holders simply duplicating their existing domains.
Within the working group, the argument that ICANN should impose substantial delays on the initial deployment of new gTLDs in the interest of adopting or perfecting trademark- protective mechanisms won little support except from Intellectual Property constituency members.
The discussion above canvasses many of the public comments received. By far the largest set of comments, however, addressed a specific implementation of the principles discussed above. Nearly 180 commenters (a majority of the comments filed) supported the creation of a particular proposed new domain: .NAA, proposed as a new gTLD to be run by North American indigenous peoples.
In working group discussions, members of the working group initially expressed sharply varying positions on the nature of the initial rollout. Some working group members urged that ICANN should immediately announce its intention to authorize hundreds of new gTLDs over the course of the next few years. While ICANN might interrupt that process if it observed serious problems with the rollout, the presumption would be in favor of deployment to the limits of the technically feasible and operationally stable. If ICANN simply deployed a small number of new gTLDs with no commitment to add more, they argued, the public would have to make registration decisions based on the possibility that the small number of new gTLDs would be the only options. This would give the new registries oligopoly power and the ability to earn greater-than-competitive profits; it would encourage pre-emptive and speculative registrations based on the possibility of continued artificial scarcity. By contrast, they urged, an ICANN decision to deploy a large number of gTLDs would enable competition and a level playing field: If ICANN announced an intention to add hundreds of new gTLDs over a three-year period, no new registry could exercise market power based on the prospect of a continued artificial scarcity of names.
Other working group members took the opposite approach. New gTLDs, they urged, could seriously aggravate the problems facing trademark rightsholders in the existing domain name space. Accordingly, they urged, new gTLDs should be introduced only slowly and in a controlled manner, and only after effective trademark protection mechanisms had been implemented and shown to be effective.
A third set of working group members took still another approach. In the long term, they stated, it would be desirable for ICANN to allow the deployment of new gTLDs to the limits of the technically feasible and operationally stable. As a short-term matter, however, the immediate deployment of hundreds of new TLDs would not be prudent. The operationally safer course, rather, should be to deploy a smaller number, and to follow that deployment with an evaluation period during which the Internet community could assess the initial deployment. ICANN would go on to deploy additional TLDs if no serious problems arose in the initial rollout.
The proposal that ICANN start by deploying six to ten new TLDs, followed by an evaluation period, was crafted as a compromise position to bridge > the gap separating the three groups, and to enable a rough consensus to form > in the middle ground.
In September 1999, the WG-C co-chairs made the determination that the working group had reached rough consensus supporting the compromise position. Because there had been no formal consensus call, though, the working group held a vote in December 1999 to reaffirm that consensus. Following the lead of Working Group B, the working group determined in advance that a two-thirds margin would constitute adequate evidence of rough consensus. The vote reaffirmed the "six to ten, followed by an evaluation period" compromise position as the rough consensus of the working group, by a margin of 44 to 20. (A substantial number of working group members did not cast votes. In addition, some working group members, having been solicited to vote, sent messages to the list explaining that they were declining to take a position at that time, and listed themselves as consequently abstaining. Neither the non-voters nor the abstainers were counted in figuring the two-thirds majority.)
The "six to ten, followed by an evaluation period" consensus position has the advantage of being a compromise proposal supported by a wide range of working group members. In a bottom-up, consensus-driven organization, broad agreement on a policy path is valuable for its own sake. The sense of the bulk of the working group is that this proposal strikes an appropriate balance between slower, contingent deployment of new gTLDs and faster, more nearly certain, deployment.
Three arguments were made in the working group against the proposal. The first was that the contemplated initial deployment was too large; rather, some WG members urged, it would be appropriate, following the implementation of effective intellectual property protections, for ICANN to roll out no more than two or three new gTLDs. The second argument was that the contemplated initial deployment was too *small*: that, as detailed above, a deployment of only six to ten, without an upfront commitment to roll out many more, will be a half-measure that would grant oligopoly power to the lucky registries selected for the initial rollout.
Commenters expressed agreement with each of these positions: Bell Atlantic and Marilyn Cade supported the introduction of just a single new gTLD at the outset; British Telecom and Time Warner urged the initial rollout of only a few. The submission of the WG-C Rapporteur of the Business & Commercial constituency, on behalf of that constituency, urged that ICANN should start with a "very small number" of new gTLDs. Other commenters, including Jonathan Cohen (then an NC member, IPC), Dr. Victoria Carrington, AOL, Disney and Nintendo of America, generally endorsed the statement that the introduction of new gTLDs should be slow and controlled, and should incorporate an evaluation period.
By contrast, Hirofumi Hotta (NC member, ISPCPC), Kathryn Kleiman (NC member, NCDNHC), Michael Schneider (NC member, ISPCPC), Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, AXISNET, InterWorking Labs, Tucows.com and InterAccess Company supported the position that ICANN should, at the outset, announce a schedule for introducing hundreds of new TLDs. The Office of Advocacy, U.S. Small Business Administration concluded that ICANN should start with a limited introduction of new TLDs followed by an evaluation period, but that ICANN should announce in advance that it would continue with a steady introduction of additional TLDs so long as pre-announced technical criteria were met. Raul Echeberria (then an NC member, NCDNHC) stated that ICANN should evaluate the operation and market acceptance of the TLDs added in the initial rollout before creating or announcing more. Melbourne IT, PSI-Japan and Register.com all supported the compromise position of an initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs followed by an evaluation period.
Most WG members concluded that a deployment of fewer than 6-10 would not give ICANN the information that it would need to make sensible later decisions, and was smaller than caution dictated. At the same time, most WG-C members felt that an initial commitment to many more than 6-10 would not be operationally sound. Until we see the consequences for the domain name space of adding new gTLDs, there are advantages to a more circumspect path.
The final objection raised was that the consensus agreement answered the wrong question: The working group, said some, should not be addressing the number of new gTLDs at all before resolving such issues as whether the new top-level domains should be general-purpose (like .com), special-purpose, or some combination of the two. These issues are discussed in this report under the heading of "ongoing work," and certainly it would not have been inappropriate for the WG to have sought to reach conclusions on those matters before discussing Issue Two. But most members of the working group concluded that the size of the initial rollout could and should be addressed first, before resolving less tractable issues.
Remaining questions before the working group include how the new gTLDs deployed in the initial rollout, and their associated registries, should be selected. In initial discussion and straw polls on this issue, working group members fell into several camps. One group urged that ICANN should first select new gTLD strings, and only then call for applications from registries wishing to operate those TLDs. A second group urged that ICANN should select new gTLD registries on the basis of objective criteria, and allow the registries to choose their own gTLDs in response to market considerations. A third group suggested that registries should apply describing their proposed gTLDs, and that an ICANN body or process would then make selections taking into account the characteristics of both the registry and its proposed gTLD. The working group considered the third option, viewed as a possible middle ground, as a consensus call, relating only to the initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs.
Thirteen "yes" votes were cast in that consensus call, and five "no" votes. While the votes cast were markedly in favor, it's the view of the co-chair that a finding of rough consensus, at this date, would be premature. Only a small number of people voted: In contrast to the 64 votes cast on the consensus call relating to the size of the initial deployment (well over half of the membership of the WG at the time), only eighteen people chose to cast a vote on this matter. Even some active participants in the discussion of the consensus call did not cast votes. This makes the vote less reliable as a gauge of the views of the working group as a whole. Other factors making it difficult to draw an unambiguous consensus from the vote include the facts that some of those who voted "yes" added additional caveats conditioning their support, and that voters may have had varying understandings as to how the term "registry" in the consensus call should be understood, and what an application would entail. ("No" voters urged both that the consensus proposal would give too much discretionary authority to ICANN, and that it would preclude ICANN from considering gTLD proposals that came from entities other than would-be registries.)
It appears to be the sense of the working group, among both supporters and opponents of the consensus call, that ICANN's selection process should be procedurally regular and guided by pre-announced selection criteria. Further, it appears to be the sense of the working group that the namespace should have room for both limited-purpose gTLDs (which have a charter that substantially limits who can register there) and open, general-purpose gTLDs. The working group extensively discussed a set of eight principles, drafted by Philip Sheppard (NC member, Business) and Kathryn Kleiman (NC member, NCDNHC), against which applications for new TLDs might be judged. The proposed principles, in their current iteration, incorporate the keywords Certainty, Honesty, Differentiation, Competition, Diversity, Semantics, Multiplicity and Simplicity. However, the working group has not so far achieved a consensus on the content or usefulness of the principles.
In summary, Working Group C has reached rough consensus on two issues. The first is that ICANN should add new gTLDs to the root. The second is that ICANN should begin the deployment of new gTLDs with an initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs, followed by an evaluation period. The working group is continuing to address other issues, including the mechanism through which new gTLDs and registries should be selected. While there is sentiment within the working group for the compromise position that registries should apply describing their proposed gTLDs, and that an ICANN body or process should make selections taking into account the characteristics of both the registries and their proposed gTLDs, a finding of rough consensus on this point would be premature.
As of Sun Mar 19 2000 the number of subscribers to the WG-C lists is 147 (wg-c 139 and wg-c-digest 8)
The following is the tally of votes on the December 1999 consensus call on "six to ten, followed by an evaluation period":
The following is the tally of votes on the March 2000 consensus call on "registries should apply describing their proposed gTLD":
The following is the tally of votes on approving this report and transmitting it to the Names Council:
A detailed summary of the public comments on the working group's Oct. 23, 1999 interim report is available at http://www.dnso.org/wgroups/wg-c/Arc01/msg00490.html.
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