Are Rules Really Meant to be Broken?

Earlier this month, ICANN opened public comment period on a proposed amendment to offer domain names consisting solely of numbers, and of numbers and hyphens under the .NAME gTLD. These types of domains were initially reserved by Global Name Registry (GNR) when .NAME first launched in 2001. Now however, most likely due to low registration rates – for example, as of 2010 only 248,028 domains have been registered in .NAME (compare that to the over 89 million registered in .COM) – .NAME is hoping ICANN will allow it to relax its restrictions.

Other gTLDs, including .BIZ and .TRAVEL have requested (and received) a similar relaxation of rules and restrictions as a result of lower than expected registration levels. Most recently, Employ Media LLC has put forth the idea of opening up .JOBS to generic names. Originally, the TLD was limited to the names of employers, like Disney.JOBS.

These changes not only represent a softening or liberalization of rules, but also a departure from the original business model of these TLDs in order to keep their businesses afloat. Multiple “new” TLDs are struggling, and are now turning to ICANN to enact policy changes to help save them. So why, in the midst of all this, is ICANN insisting on pushing ahead with launching new gTLDs that could very well be doomed?

Moreover, how can we, as businesses and consumers who rely on the Internet, trust that ICANN will make sure that new gTLDs stay true to their proposed intentions one, five, or ten years down the line? There is currently a great deal of debate over the rules that will govern the launch of new gTLDs, but it seems somewhat pointless given that ICANN historically changes those rules later on to suit the interests of contracted parties (the registrars and registries who’s fees to ICANN make up the “nonprofit’s” $40M+ annual operating budget). Up to this point, ICANN has justified its introduction of new gTLDs by claiming that there is a demand for them. Not only is this assertion completely unsupported by adoption rates of other newer TLDs (.NAME, .BIZ, etc), but ICANN’s laissez-faire, free market rule attitude completely contradicts its past actions of bailing out struggling TLDs by changing the rules that govern them.

It seems like ICANN is going in way too many directions at once.

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