Earlier this year we requested your questions on one of ICANN's most heated discussions — issues involving top-level domains (TLDs) — which we passed on to Vint Cerf, Google's VP and Chief Internet Evangelist and chairman of the board of ICANN. Despite an understandably heavy schedule, Vint Cerf has taken the time to personally respond to more questions than we had originally anticipated. So with our special thanks, here are his responses.
Q1: Karl Auerbach recently made this comment on the GNSO General Assembly list: "Even during my term there were those who were absolutely, totally, and utterly against auctions, and some of those are still on the board." How would you characterize current Board sentiment regarding the prospect of TLD auctions? — by Danny Lee Younger
Vint Cerf: The board has not taken a position and probably will not until the results of several processes are in hand: the current GNSO PDP on new TLDs, discussions on IDNs in various forums including the president's committee on the subject, public comment on any PDP proposals, GAC discussions, ccTLD discussions regarding IDN adjuncts to two letter country codes, and other inputs. We have learned from experience that not all TLD proposals are uniformly received, so wide-open auctions for arbitrary TLDs may prove problematic. Auctions have utility where multiple, equally qualified parties are interested in operating the same TLD.
Q2: What is the win for anybody? Do any of the new gTLD registr*s make money? The trademark folk just have to register one more domain. The users don't care, they just click a hyperlink. It seems like more stuff for ICANN to argue about instead of just doing a quiet job. All the "let a million TLDs bloom" talk seems like self-promotion disguised as egalitarianism. Where is the real win for anybody? — by Randy Bush
Vint Cerf: Good question. I've been misunderstood when quoted as saying "I don't see a strong rationale for the creation of new TLDs". It is not that I am absolutely against them; I only want a clear expression of the rationale for the creation of any particular new ones. It is clear that some groups see TLDs as a kind of vindication of their importance or stature in the cyber-world. Randy's question implicitly asks by what metric(s) a new proposed TLDs value should be measured. That's a good question to try to answer.
Q3: What would be the impact on the demand for new TLDs if there were a mechanism or service like a "DO NOT REGISTER" system for trademark holders? — by Martin
Vint Cerf: This has some of the earmarks of the various "sunrise" mechanisms proposed and tested by some of the new TLD operators. On the surface, such a registry/service might mitigate trademark holder concerns about protecting their trademarks relative to new TLDs. The tension between permitting trademarks to be used in domain names without license and the trademark holder's obligation/desire to protect the trademark to avoid dilution would not abate however. It would be of interest to hear from the intellectual property interest community whether such a scheme would attract them.
Q4: What factors of a new TLD submission favorably or unfavorably impacts the outcome? — by Jothan Frakes
Vint Cerf: We still have limited experience with new TLDs but in the last "sponsored TLD" round, three primary components were technical, financial and community-of-interest. In the 2000 round, the proof-of-concept notion and apparent utility to Internet users as well as diversity of service models proved to be important. This question gets back to Randy Bush's basic question of utility in general. One can relate to the desire for IDN TLDs among native language speakers whose languages are not readily represented in ASCII Roman characters, for example. Concerns relating to national interests, geo-political name references, and public policy interests often emerge from GAC discussions about proposed new TLDs. Such concerns can have unpredictable impacts on the proposals.
Q5: Since ICANN is supposed to foster competition, how does restricting the number of TLDs help do that? — by Chris McElroy
Vint Cerf: It depends on what you interpret useful competition to be. There are costs associated with the implementation of new TLDs and these costs are manifest in various ways (ICANN cost of operation, potential costs to trademark holders, impact on the root operation, costs to the supporting organizations considering new TLDs and so on). The idea that increasing the number of TLDs is absolutely beneficial seems to me open to some debate (see also responses to earlier questions).
Q6: Do you consider it fair and competitive to allow current companies who monopolize most of the good, short one word domain names, to have an advantage over every other business or individual user who has to choose 3-4 word domain names to compete with? — by Chris McElroy
Vint Cerf: I assume you mean by this, second level labels within a given TLD? Registrations in the existing TLDs have been essentially open and roughly speaking first come, first served, discounting some sunrise processes introduced with some new TLDs. Your thesis seems to be that short domain names are somehow more competitive than longer ones, or ones that are hierarchical in structure. Given the way in which most products and services are found on the net (through search, not through domain name guessing), I am not sure I buy the competition argument I believe you are implicitly making.
Q7: What about future generations of users and future businesses that are not even on the web yet? How long will their domain names have to be since ICANN has limited namespace to a few generic sounding TLDs, com, net, org, biz, and info and how does that foster competition? — by Chris McElroy
Vint Cerf: Please see my previous answer above. ICANN has not said it will not authorize additional TLDs but what is lacking is the basis for their authorization. That's what the PDP process is intended to help create.
Q8: Why should a trademark automatically assure one company a domain name when several businesses have the same mark? And why does ICANN not solve that problem by creating categorical TLDs that correspond to trademark categories? Then apple.computers could be as protected as apple.records — by Chris McElroy
Vint Cerf: For gTLDs one would need a universal categorization system and the trademark community does not, to my knowledge, have one. There are categories for each national trademark system but as far as I am aware, these have not been homologated. You are correct that trademarks are not unique and that has been part of the "collision" with the domain name system.
Q9: Where in ICANN's bylaws does it say that ICANN has the right to review my business plan before deciding to let me run a TLD? What if my business plan is a secret? Why does it take $50,000 to review an application? And why haven't the application fees ever been refunded to applicants who were turned down? — by Chris McElroy
Vint Cerf: Part of ICANN's responsibility is to attempt to assure the stability of the domain name system and that has been interpreted as trying to assure that operators of TLDs are equipped to run their TLDs in a sustainable way. That's out of interest for the registrants. The process of evaluation allows for confidentiality of submitted materials. ICANN contracts for outside reviews of TLD proposals so there are out of pocket costs. In the last sTLD cycle, ICANN undertook to analyze costs and to rebate unused fees, if memory serves. I would note that there are out of pocket costs even if bids are not accepted so refunds in that case are problematic.
Q10: Why can't Domain Name Holders automatically request anonymity without having to pay their Registrar, which really does NOT cost those Registrars anything extra? — by Search Engines Web
Vint Cerf: While I cannot speak for any Registrar (not being conversant with all their costs), there is always some cost associated with doing anything special. There is a tension between the desire for open WHOIS information and the desire of some registrants to be anonymous. That tension has yet to be satisfactorily resolved in policy discussions especially in the GNSO. One of the proposals has been to implement tiered access to WHOIS information, possibly by adopting a new technical substructure for implementing the system. Until that happens, registrars that are offering some form of anonymity apparently do so by adding procedures to the normal registration and apparently adding to cost.
Q11: Why is it still REQUIRED to supply a Phone Number in this day in age? — by Search Engines Web
Vint Cerf: Experience has shown that it is extremely valuable to registrants to have multiple means of being reached in case there are problems with a registration. Hijacking of email addresses is all too common or changing of email addresses without changing registration information has led to failures of communication with consequent loss of registration. So this provision strikes me as a benefit to registrants.
Q12: Your Perspective on VeriSign maintaining the .com directory, in light of all their exposed unethical marketing practices to get domains transferred to them? — by Search Engines Web
Vint Cerf: As far as I am aware, those issues have been resolved. There are arguments pro and con about presumptive renewal rights for gTLD operators. I am persuaded by the utility of stable operation and incentive to invest in the infrastructure to lean towards presumptive renewal except in the face of breach of contract.
Q13: What were the "off the record" reasons for the .XXX domains not going through? — by Search Engines Web
Vint Cerf: There haven't been any off the record reasons. All that has happened so far is that more time has been given for public input including input from the GAC after it has digested a report on the process of sTLD selection.
Q14: Years ago it was often argued that consumers in the United States were confused by domain names in TLDs other than .com… Has the popularity of search engines, and particularly search bars in web browsers, changed playing field in terms of consumer's ability to use alternate TLDs and the amount of traffic seen by sites in alternate TLDs from U.S. consumers? — by Tom Cross
Vint Cerf: That's a good question. There isn't much doubt that ".com" became a kind of symbol for domain name registrations in the US. My honest impression is that search engines have tended to diminish the importance of "guessing" domain names although I understand that a substantial number of people still try that — and if they fail, they likely turn to search mechanisms. A more serious problem has been that JAVA programmers for web pages often don't know that there are more than seven gTLDs and that many of them have more than three letters. That leads to rejection of email addresses and other entries into web forms that make reference to domain names. We need some educational outreach to fix that.
Q15: Does ICANN view the bulk domain monetization business as a legitimate activity that contributes constructively to the Internet as a communications tool? — by Tom Cross
Vint Cerf: As an engineer, I must admit that this particular "business" has been a surprise for me. However, it seems to fit within the present framework allowed by domain name operation. Advertising seems to be the primary driver here and it is argued by interested parties that advertising is an important form of commercial communication and therefore qualifies as a constructive Internet application.
Q16: How much of an impact does the bulk domain monetization business have on the revenue that registrars, registries, and ICANN generate from the domain name system? — by Tom Cross
Vint Cerf: That's a good question and I don't know the answer. Probably a key metric is the ratio of bulk domain registrations vs. registrations that are related to resolvable addresses leading to web pages, email boxes, etc. Perhaps some of the registrars and registries who are reading these Q&As would be willing to respond to that question.
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