Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What's in a name - a story about TLDs 

Sao Paulo city in Brazil has briefly become the focal point for lobby groups wanting to establish new top level domain names or TLDs. A New York initiative called the .nyc Development Corp believes there is a need to have web addresses that end with .nyc, while the dot BERLIN GmbH & Co. KG argues that there is pent up demand for the .berlin suffix.

The Berliners formed a Limited Commercial Partnership to coordinate lobbying efforts aimed at convincing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to approve the new city TLD. This initiative claims to have a staff of six people working with the support of “more than 30 organisations and persons that represent the community of Berliners”.

The dotBerlin application contends that the namespace within the .de and other TLDs is becoming increasingly scarce and that the organisation has proven demand for .berlin within the community. It also correctly points out that other cities will go for their respective TLDs.

New Yorkers supporting the .nyc initiative have added their voices to the calls for city TLDs saying that .nyc would improve the quality of life in the city, broaden internet access and development as well as allow better marketing of itself as a tourist destination. They also say that, “New York City will be better able to position itself alongside entities like Singapore (.sg) and Hong Kong (.hk) which already have TLDs”.

The dotasia organisation goes beyond the concept of a city TLD – it has already presented paperwork (in the virtual sense) to ICANN for setting up a sponsored TLD called .asia. The group based in Hong Kong already appears to have an agreement in place with Afilias for technical support of the sTLD.

Dot Africa is lagging behind its Asian counterparts but the initiative for an Africa wide suffix is gaining momentum. A .Africa TLD would be of interest to pan African organisations such as the African Union, Nepad and various sporting bodies. Any business entity operating on a continental scale – and the number is growing daily – would certainly see the advantages of having a generic dot Africa domain name.

Many South African businesses have encountered resistance to their proposals because of the perception that the continent is gradually falling under the hegemony of the South. Africans north of the Limpopo resent the apparent economic imperialism of South Africa, so if a company operated under a pan African, .Africa web address, rather than a .co.za address, it could be easier to negotiate better deals.

Some delegates at the Sao Paulo meeting have accused ICANN of being unreasonably reluctant to open the field to more top level domains. They say that this reluctance has created an artificial scarcity of TLDs which has in turn, increased their value.

A counter-argument to this line of reasoning would include the fact that the most recently created TLDs such as .aero . coop and .museum have not experienced huge popularity.

ICANN has just published a discussion document proposing alterations to the country code TLDs or ccTLDs. The proposed changes include Zaire's (.zr) renaming to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (.cd); East Timor's code changing from .tp to .tl and Czechoslovakia’s .cs division into the Czech Republic .cz and Slovakia .sk.

The break-up of the Soviet Union .su sees the birth of new codes for new states such as .ru, .by and .ua.


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Monday, December 04, 2006

A full agenda for ICANN meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil 

Paul Twomey, CEO of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned names and Numbers) opened the 27th edition of the council meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil with a number of positive developments to talk about. Most important of these was the signing of a Joint Partnership Agreement between ICANN and US Department of Commerce that continues the process of relaxing Washington’s control over the internet body.

He was also pleased to announce the formation of a new body uniting internet users in Latin America and the Caribbean. This body to be known as LAC-RALO (Latin America and the Caribbean Regional At-Large Organisation) has not been properly constituted as yet, but delegates at the Sao Paulo meeting are discussing plans to maximize participation of user groups.

Twomey said that Lac-Ralo will be the third Latin American organisation to help ICANN in its work. The other two are LACTLD (Regional ccTLD managers) and LACNIC (Regional Internet Registry for Latin America)

Issues on the agenda for this week’s ICANN meeting include the developments mentioned above as well as the recent agreement between the US government and Verisign for the running of the .com domain name; Internationalised domain names; the implementation of IPv6 (an expanded addressing system); and ICANN’s role in taking forward the processes initiated by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

One of the most visible outcomes of the WSIS meetings was the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which recently held its first meeting in Athens, Greece. The next IGF meeting is due to take place in Rio de Janeiro, in November 2007.

Keynote speaker at the opening ceremony, Augusto Gadelha, Secretary in the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology, praised the work of ICANN in maintaining the technical stability of the internet. In so doing, he was subtly reinforcing his government’s position about the limited, and strictly non-political, role of ICANN.

He then went on to outline the government’s political role in overseeing the allocation of domain names in Brazil where the local .br space is managed by CGI.br (Comite Gestor da Internet no Brasil). Gadelha said that there are nine representatives of the Federal government and twelve civil society representatives on the CGI committee.

He said, “The Brazilian government also believes that basic Internet resources in Brazil, such as domain names and IP addresses, should be treated as communal assets. In fact, the domain names of the ccTLD are not commercialized.”

Gadelha proudly told the international audience at the open session that 90 percent of the more than one million registered domain names in the country are .br names. But he also pointed out the importance of broadening internet access in his country. He said, “Currently, only 28% of the population, or 43 million Brazilians, have access to the internet in Brazil. Of those only 40% have access from their homes.”

Brazilians will certainly be interested in the debates on Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs), another important issue on the ICANN agenda. IDNs will allow people to have web addresses that do not necessarily follow the existing limitation of the Latin alphabet and numerals. There are several Portuguese letters and accents that are not currently catered for in standard web addresses.

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