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Last week in London, I had the pleasure of attending the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) 50th meeting since its establishment in 1998. You may not have heard of ICANN before, but it plays a significant part of the governance of the global Internet. It’s especially important right now as the Internet is going through a transition that holds implications for future operation.
ICANN holds its meetings three times annually where its supporting organizations and advisory committees address a number of topics including policy, security, privacy, social issues, intellectual property, trademarks, governance and other international issues impacting the proper, safe and secure operation of the Internet. ICANN is unique in the fact that it offers an opportunity for everyone, big and small, to have a voice in the operation and guiding principles of the Internet.
Taking center stage at this past week’s ICANN meeting was the changing process of managing the Internet Domain Name System top-level domains (TLDs) – things like .com, .net or .org – as well as allocation of IP address. This address allocation function of ICANN had long been under the jurisdiction of the United States government. In the past couple of years though, ICANN has slowed its reliance on U.S. funding and begun self-funding by offering domain ownership to companies like Google and Amazon. That domain ownership comes at a hefty price, requiring a payment of $185,000 just to get in the game and then ongoing annual payments to ICANN for the privilege of managing a TLD.
There are many benefits to managing a unique TLD, not the least of which is brand management. Amazon.com, for example, might benefit from owning and manage .amazon. But this also offers significant downsides. The global wine industry raised issues with what would surely be an expensive process to manage the TLDs that refer to wine growing regions – TLDs like .napa or .champagne. The French in particular are concerned with brand dilution and the undermining of the geographical indicators that the French have developed since the 19th century. The cable and broadband industry faces similar challenges. Who should pay and maintain control of .cable, .broadband, or .HBO?
As ICANN begins its handover process from the U.S. government we will continue to see more and more global issues such as the one brought up by the wine industry being addressed by ICANN. NCTA will continue to participate in ICANN meetings and update you of any important changes.