Stop ICANN's Plans for Closed Generic Domains

As I noted recently in the context of the BBC inexplicably supporting the introduction of DRM into the HTML5 specification, openness lies at the heart of the Web and the Internet. One of the problems with true openness is that it has to be at...


As I noted recently in the context of the BBC inexplicably supporting the introduction of DRM into the HTML5 specification, openness lies at the heart of the Web and the Internet. One of the problems with true openness is that it has to be at every level: if any part of a system is closed, it interferes with the openness of the whole.

That makes ICANN's plan to bring in closed generic top-level domain (TLD) names – things like .book or .health – a disaster, since it would allow one company to determine who could use what sub-domain there. Already, many national bodies are objecting to the idea, as are companies. Here's one that isn't very happy, for example [.pdf]:

We are writing to express our concern, similar to concerns expressed by Australia and Germany in their respective Early Warnings, regarding private, exclusive ownership of closed generic TLDs. As you are aware, a small number of companies have applied for TLDs that consist of generic industry categories and seek to control them in closed fashion. Examples of generic TLDs that are being pursued as closed include .insurance, .app, .jewelry, .search, and .book, among others.

This situation threatens the openness and freedom of the internet and could have harmful consequences for internet users worldwide. These applications also present a competitive threat to other companies. In addition to these policy concerns, closed generic TLD applications merit close scrutiny because the applicants are attempting to circumvent ICANN's Code of Conduct and New Registry Agreement through exemptions that were not intended for them. We ask the Board to consider requiring applicants for closed generic TLDs to either open the TLD or withdraw for a full refund.


If ICANN allows closed generic TLDs to proceed, competition will suffer. The companies at issue will be positioned to gain unfair advantage in direct navigation and online search; will become associated with the very genus of products they offer; and will likely control their generic TLDs perpetually since the registry agreements permit unlimited automatic renewal in ten-year terms. Additionally, the companies at issue will likely be able to prevent substantially similar TLDs from being registered in the future, such as .apps or .jewelrystore. Needless to say, this will result in steep barriers to entry for would-be competitors. As the governments of Australia and Germany noted during the GAC Early Warning Process, there will be a significant "negative impact on competition" by barring other entities, especially competitors, from using those generic TLDs.

This company is clearly a big fan of openness, freedom and fair competition on a level playing field, and I applaud its forthright defence of those critically important ideas. As you have probably guessed by now, the company in question is Microsoft, with whom I find myself in total agreement on this occasion.

Closed generic TLDs are an incredibly stupid idea, since they will seriously undermine all those good things that Microsoft is concerned about. Sadly, this comes as no surprise: ICANN has been an awful guardian of the Internet's domain name system. I've been railing against its incompetence for over a decade, ever since ICANN was first launched in 1999. I can't think of a single ICANN initiative that has been beneficial for the Internet commons as a whole, even if some individual companies have exploited its decisions in order to make lots of money for themselves (domain squatters, for example.)

The optimum solution would be to get rid of ICANN completely, and to give management of the domain name system back to the engineers that built it and understand it. But in the meantime we can at least try to stop it destroying the open Internet with its hare-brained schemes for an insane proliferation of unneeded new domains that will delight spammers and trolls everywhere.

We can do this by responding to the ICANN consultation on this move:

ICANN is seeking public comment on the subject of "closed generic" applications and whether specific requirements should be adopted corresponding to this type of application. Stakeholder views are invited to help define and consider this issue. In particular, comments would be helpful in regard to proposed objective criteria for:

classifying certain applications as "closed generic" TLDs, i.e., how to determine whether a string is generic, and

determining the circumstances under which a particular operator should be permitted to adopt "open" or "closed" registration policies.

Comments can be submitted to the email address

[email protected]

and must arrive before the end of 7 March (UTC). I urge you to make even a short submission asking ICANN to stop this ill thought-out move; if it can't make the Internet better, it should at least not make it worse.

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