Some internet users and administrators see increased input by governments into the public policy aspects of the internet as worrying, but ICANN chairman Vint Cerf views it as a positive move.
“The internet now touches so many places that it’s affecting interactions between people and affecting culture in different countries, so of course governments will become interested,” he says.
However, he does not see national governments as wishing to dominate decisions made for the internet in their own national space and this is an encouraging sign, he says.
Rather, they are seeking the right to be a “stakeholder” on equal footing with other constituencies such as technical, academic and private-sector commercial groups and the general population, often described as “civil society”.
This is an unaccustomed position for governments, which are used to being “in charge” on their own territory, Cerf says, but they seem to be accommodating to the role, as the price of contributing to a medium so trans-national.
The statement by ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC) on the proposed .xxx domain, seeking more information and clearer undertakings from its sponsor, showed the ability of governments of many different views to formulate a consensus view to put forward to GAC, Cerf says.
ICANN has in the past been a somewhat technically-focused body, he says, but the selection of new gTLDs (generalised top-level domains like .info or .xxx) has an impact on public policy.
ICANN is working towards a standard process for vetting new gTLD proposals, and this should be in place by the end of this year, Cerf says.
One of the other big initiatives for the rest of this year is a test of two ways of representing “internationalised” domain names with characters outside the Roman alphabet — an important ingredient for full inclusion of all nations.
Various ad-hoc schemes are in place at present, either at name resolvers on the network, in ISPs or as browser plug-ins. “That’s fine if all the people who interact with your site have that plug-in,” he says, but those that don’t will get a “not found” response or even go to a different site from the one they were expecting.
A consistent process for creating and managing such domains and requests to the sites has to be devised, Cerf says.
An ad hoc process by the Chinese government last month led to an erroneous rumour that China was setting up a rival .com domain to the authoritative international domain. In fact, though the characters typed after the dot mean simply “company”, the Chinese DNS servers translate this to .com.cn inside China’s internet space and so do not conflict with .com.
Cerf is encouraged by the cooperation shown among the governments and communities of countries with similar or overlapping character sets, such as China, Japan and Korea, or Hindi, Urdu and Parsee speakers.
A temporary test top-level domain will be set up this year to verify that systems using the two schemes — known as Dname and NS Records — work as expected, Cerf says. Then procedures for using and managing such names will have to be devised.
“Once you publicise the availability of such names, people will immediately want to start registering names, and as a registrar, you will need to have amended your procedures.”
Cerf declines to give a date for general availability of international names. “Rules will be established and some testing done by the end of this year. This, I hope, will stimulate the rest of the user community at least to begin thinking through [amended processes].”
One concern arising from international domain names is of an acceleration in phishing attacks, using misspelt domain names of reputable organisations to mount fake sites.