ICANN domain name process under fire

By Margret Johnston, IDG News Service |  Networking

ICANN was created in October 1998 and became operational about a year later when it signed a series of agreements with Network Solutions Inc. (NSI), which at the time was the only operator of significant registries. As its first action, ICANN created an accreditation system for competitive registrars, of which there are now more than 180, Cerf said. Another early ICANN accomplishment was the creation of a cost-effective and efficient dispute resolution system, he added.

But the introduction of new TLDs has been the most complex of ICANN's initial goals. One reason is because it involves expanding the structure of the namespace, which presents more risks. Before the selection process began, ICANN consulted Internet engineers and found that while most believed that some additional TLDs could be added without serious risks of instability, there was considerable uncertainty about how many could be added without adverse side effects, Cerf said.

ICANN named nine criteria that were set out in August for assessing TLD proposals, including the need to maintain the Internet's stability and the extent to which proposals would meet previously unmet needs, and Cerf said they were consistent throughout the process. ICANN never suggested it would accept all the proposed TLDs, he explained.

"Our objective was to simply start with small numbers. We never expected as a board to approve every single application which might qualify to operate a TLD," Cerf said. But the board does anticipate that once the first new TLDs are in operation, more will be added and the process will be simplified.

He also defended the $50,000 application fee, saying the process had to be self-funding since ICANN has no general source of funds, and it was unlikely an entity that couldn't afford that fee could operate a successful and scalable TLD registry. About half of the money was used during the evaluation process, Cerf said.

Cerf's explanations, however, did not satisfy every member of the panel. Professor A. Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, criticized ICANN for creating only seven TLDs, for using arbitrary criteria and for acting like an allocation authority.

Froomkin said there was no question in his mind that a court would find ICANN's TLD selection process unfair.

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