How we ensure full public discussion of IDN issues

21 August 2009

Kurt Pritz

One particularly important aspect of ICANN’s launch of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will be the availability of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) at the top level. That eagerly anticipated enhancement to Internet participation has also raised some issues.

For example, current practice dictates that gTLDs contain at least three characters – two-character Latin TLDs are reserved for country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs). However, in certain languages (you probably can think of more than one) one or two characters commonly express a complete word – and they would not be confused with present-day ccTLDs.

Prohibiting the registration of names of less than three characters in certain languages may hobble IDN use in certain languages but it is difficult to fashion a uniform set of rules to govern a potential relaxation of this requirement that works universally.

ICANN’s approach to this issue is similar to its approach on many issues regarding implementation of the policy for the introduction of new gTLDs.

  1. Get expert advice on the matter. The use of experts allows ICANN to obtain experience and skill economically outside its core competencies and develop material for public discussion in a timely manner.
  2. Use that advice to formulate some sort of model.
  3. Then conduct public discussion on the issue (the discussion is clarified by existence of a model).
  4. Iterate the model and hold another round of public discussion.
  5. Iterate the model, and so on.

This process has been used effectively thus far in the new gTLD implementation. ICANN has consulted with: technical, DNS, risk management and linguistic experts, dispute resolution providers, and others.

In this case of character limits and IDNs, ICANN is engaging a small team to evaluate this problem and provide expert advice from both sides of the problem: that IDNs must be effectively engender regional participation and that the rules must provide stability, i.e., that the domain name system (DNS) work in a way predictable to users.

Given the importance of the issue, we saw a large number of volunteers – all of them competent to take part – but from which only a few of which were chosen for the team so initial advice could be developed relatively quickly.

That not to say that those not in the team can’t participate effectively now and in the future. Right now, there are a number of comments on the issue but no jointly developed advice or model. The small working group is intended to move the discussion forward — but not conclude it. Rather, it will provide additional material for all those who are interested in ensuing discussion in ICANN meetings and public comment fora.

Again, that process for reaching implementation: identify issues, get expert advice, create a model for public discussion, discuss, iterate the model, and so on.

The idea is that the experts crystalise the discussion in a timely way and therefore encourage meaningful participation.

We are at step number two of this process that will include all interested parties. The process for developing a preliminary set of assumption will be publicly reported so the ensuing public discussion can be informed and timely.

Everyone at ICANN appreciates the comments made on this particular issue and other IDN issues – all going toward an effective way to increase effective regional participation in the Internet.

Kurt Pritz