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Andrew Mack Comment on version 2 of the guidebook

  • To: 2gtld-guide@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Andrew Mack Comment on version 2 of the guidebook
  • From: Andrew Mack <amack@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 11:02:13 -0700 (PDT)

To the Community:

Looking at Version 2 of the draft applicant
guidebook I am struck by one area where ICANN’s plan may be creating problems
for users and unwittingly creating preferences that could disadvantage
already-disadvantaged users in the IDN space.  
While the guidebook doesn’t define linguistic communities per se, I fear that
some of the biggest communities out there – the communities made up of users
and businesses who communicate in non-Latin scripts like Arabic or Chinese –
may be disadvantaged by the way the new gTLD round is shaping up, especially as
it relates to IDNs.

Specifically, based on the progress of the guidelines and the fact that there
is no finite timeline for the introduction of IDN gTLDs, I see a real risk that
IDN ccTLDs will be “the only game in town” for what looks like a year or more
in for languages like Arabic.  
And, while some might argue that a delay in the launch of IDN gTLDs won’t be a
problem since users may have access to IDNs through IDN ccTLDs, I think this
distorts the reality on the ground today – the way that ccTLDs really function
in many cases. Just looking at the facts, I don’t think we
should assume that the needs of the Arabic-speaking community, for example, can
(or should) be addressed working only through IDN ccTLDs.  And, I fear that in 
some cases a de facto preference
for IDN ccTLDs could threaten progress made toward narrowing the digital
In reality, working with some cc’s can be very different:
1.    ccs
are run by governments, which like it or not aren’t equal-opportunity 
suppliers.  In most countries they have their favorites
and their foes, and in many countries people on the outs with government may
face exceptional scrutiny or even be unable to obtain a domain name in some
2.    ccs
run by governments aren’t exactly known for speedy action – it can take many
steps and literally weeks to register in some countries, and in many countries
you need to have a physical office in order to get a domain in a ccTLD.
3.   Even
if you’re willing to go through the time and many steps, once you’ve done this,
ccs in many countries are a lot more expensive than typical gTLDs ($599 for two
years for a .jo in Jordan, vs. say $14 for a .net), limiting – not increasing –
access and the spread of the internet in Emerging Markets.
4.   Some
ccs are run by non-nationals who have shown limited ability or interest in
really investing in the internet, but happen as a result of history to have
been granted control over a ccTLD – a fact that was decried at the recent AFTLD
5.    And
then there are some ccTLDs like .tv and .me that have come to function for all
intents and purposes as gTLDs.  They made
this transition without going through any sort of gTLD application process,
effectively giving these cc’s the ability to “jump the line”.
Now, I would not argue for one minute that IDN ccTLDs should be slowed down –
quite the contrary.  The world wants and deserves IDNs in scripts like
Arabic, Korean or Chinese.  But neither does it make sense for ccTLDs to
be given a free pass to come out of the gate first and effectively define the
IDN landscape -- which is what they are likely to do if the new gTLD process is
delayed as it now looks likely to be. 

The good news is that we can solve this problem for the benefit of all users,
by simply adding the existing gTLDs to the IDN fast-track, agreeing to roll
them out at the same time as ccIDNs.  This would provide the greatest
amount of choice for the greatest number of users, enabling the IDN world to
have the same commercial openness and the same options common in the
Latin-script world.
It is tempting to respond to the loudest shouting about the timing of the
launch of IDNs.  However, thinking
clearly about the needs of the real communities out there, about the intended
roles of the cc’s and most importantly, thinking long-term about the IDN space
and the economic and human development potential offered by the web – a
simultaneous roll out makes most sense.  
The current guidelines risk putting IDN ccTLDs at the head of the line based
not on performance or consumer demand, but on administrative accident.  By
fast tracking the existing gTLDs in the new IDN space, we can solve this
problem, provide choice and create a net that everyone can use.  

Andrew A. Mack 
AMGlobal Consulting

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