When ICANN first announced it would allow virtually anything to be assigned as a top-level domain, some organizations were thrilled. Some cities even made websites detailing their plans to use their custom domains. Now, the United States government has quietly expressed its proposal for governments to have veto power over any proposed top-level domains, raising serious questions about just how free and open the Internet truly is.
For those of you who are not tech experts, a top-level domain (TLD) refers to the extension at the end of a website URL. It is always two or more letters following a dot, such as .com, .org, and .net. Each country also has TLDs associated with it, such as .uk for the United Kingdom and .de for Germany.
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, handles the delegation of responsibility for new TLDs and has historically been influenced by U.S. politics. For example, plans to create a .xxx TLD were derailed by the Bush administration, and new plans for a .gay TLD have come under scrutiny.
The U.S. proposal would actually give veto options to other governments as well, which could, they argue, keep the Internet from becoming fragmented, since some governments would undoubtedly block .xxx domains, even if the U.S. does not.
The proposal is not surprising, considering that some countries, such as China, are fed up with ICANN having so much control over the Internet and have suggested that a United Nations agency would be better suited. By granting countries more control over domains, the U.S. may appease China and other nations while maintaining the current organizational structure.
New TLD proposals for this year include .web, .car, .health, .movie, and .nyc. It costs an estimated $185,000 to propose a new top-level domain.