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[gtld-council] The focus of GNSO Council involvement in IDN

  • To: gtld-council@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: [gtld-council] The focus of GNSO Council involvement in IDN
  • From: Cary Karp <ck@nic.museum>
  • Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2006 12:51:19 +0100

One of the things we've learned about IDN is that few (if any) of the problems encountered in its implementation are truly new. There has always been potential for confusion resulting from similarities in the way characters appear, for example, between 1 l I, and 0 O. Where there is need for differentiating between two domain names in semantic terms rather than solely by their graphic appearance, there are plenty of problems to be had without going beyond the limits of the familiar 26-letter Latin alphabet.

What IDN does is make all of this worse; in some cases very much worse.
Certain aspects of this situation require urgent and active rectification, for example, through a significant reduction (on the protocol level) in the number of characters that are available for IDN use. Other aspects of the 'problem' are inevitable consequences of accommodating of the namespace equitably to the full diversity of human languages and writing systems.

Whatever the extent of GNSO Council involvement in this plethora of issues ultimately proves to be, the development of policies relevant to IDN in the generic namespace is our prime concern. In keeping with what is said above, there are no apparent aspects of this are are truly unique to IDN. The differentiation between two candidate TLD names become increasingly more difficult to assess as the number of dictionaries that might need to be consulted increases, and more detailed policies may be needed to constrain the deliberate generation of exploitable confusion. These are, however, only matters of degree.

To be sure, the range of new considerations quickly places us in unfamiliar territory. One aspect of this that currently appears to be causing particular concern is the discussion of providing current TLDs with alternative IDN designations. This is as much a matter for the ccTLD registries as it is for the gTLDs. Although the government of Somewheria might very much like to see the ccTLD label .sw augmented by the name of the country explicitly represented in the Somewherian script, it is highly unlikely that they would be willing to accept the delegation of the IDN alternative to be subject to competitive bidding. (Unless of course, they are unhappy with the .sw operator and also want that put up for rebid. Either way it remains unlikely that they would perceive any advantage in the two domains being operated by different agencies.)

Hopefully, it is safe to assume that at some point in the near future it will be possible for a request to be made for the localized equivalent of .somewheria. It would be equally possible for the operator of that domain to use the same subdomain tree as is used for .sw, or for the two domains to have separate naming hierarchies. Although it might be appropriate as a matter of policy to require that an application for an iTLD (dusting off the abbreviation initially used for what was to become 'gTLD') include a description of any intended parallel use of a pre-existing name tree, the delegation itself can be made using the conventional procedure for adding a new TLD to the DNS root. Corresponding conditions pertain to gTLDs, although the issue of language nexus would need to be addressed from a different perspective.

The aliasing mechanism currently being considered for technical testing permits the direct linking of a new label to a pre-existing TLD. This would make it possible to consider the introduction of localized TLD labels separately from the creation of new TLDs. It thus provides potential means for being able to address situations where localization is a particularly urgent concern, without locking the timetable for that process to the one specifically focused on the establishment of new TLDs.

We seem, however, to be stuck in a discussion of, (a) whether there is any point in proceeding with testing of an aliasing mechanism prior to determining that it would be harnessed in any impending policy statement, or (b), whether there is any point in developing policies for aliasing IDN labels to existing TLDs prior to determining that there is a suitable technical mechanism for doing so.

The President's Advisory Committee on IDN, subsequent to intense debate on that very point, is now proceeding with the planning of a technical test under the assumption that knowledge of its outcome will be useful, in any case, in the development of iTLD policies. I believe that it would be beneficial if Council would address this matter on the same unconditional basis and without delay. I cannot see any objective basis on which we could issue a categorical statement against the application of an aliasing mechanism, but now is the time to consider and articulate our position. Whatever this ends up being, the purposeful structuring of the technical test would be furthered by our input.

If the GNSO treats this primarily as a cc concern, we will end up in the paradoxical situation where the generic -- and therefore international -- segment of the TLD namespace remains fettered to the Latin alphabet, while the localized facets of the namespace acquire access to the full IDN repertoire. If there is any justification for the frequently expressed concerns about IDN fracturing the global namespace, the robust internationalization of its generic component is all the more a vital and urgent an issue.


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