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When will the Internet be divided among nations?

This fight over ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is all about a golden key. Without it, the Internet is completely useless. That golden key is a name on the net called a URL. It's all about the master design of a sophisticated key management system so that billions of single domain name identities can offer access to billions of sites without any problem. After all, without this access, the Internet has no value.
It's this portion of the magic of the Internet that is now being challenged.

It's also about ICANN, the organization that from the start has made some very stringent and often very weird policies about such issues as the golden keys. Now its global authority is being challenged, and such fights could divide the power of this controlling body, and any adverse outcome will simply split the Internet.

Many countries around the world have questioned how domain name management policies have been handled by ICANN. That has now set the stage for these upcoming clashes.

The United Nations is the self-appointed referee. It seems a fair match. In the ring, on this side is solo ICANN, representing the founding fathers' point of view, that of the U.S. On the other side is a large group of nations, almost the rest of the world.

The emerging new players are questioning the evolution of the Internet, and the originating founders' ideas are being cornered. In hindsight, the founders also made big global domain management policy blunders.
Unfortunately, the U.N. cannot solve the issue, although it can play a great catalyst role. The result might be a global body under the U.N. and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), etc.

The desired goal of the other countries is to end up with their own local language suffixes, own local language domain names, basically their own Internet, with its own domain registration policies -- in a nutshell, a very big and a very complex global mess.

Choosing five original suffixes as a quick and a simple napkin solution was the biggest mistake. The Global Charter of Corporate Nomenclature and the Rules of Global Domain Name Management were never applied. It was a shortsighted academic plan based on a quick registration revenue generation scheme. The U.S. certainly missed great opportunities during the earlier inception of the Internet Magna Carta. A pity; now it's boxing time.

The fight is also about common sense based on post-millennium realities, as now the sheer volume of e-commerce is so big, complex, fast and cruel that this overly secretive ICANN with its mysterious charter of operation now is not able to hold this unstoppable break-up movement. Like revolutions in so many sectors of so many industries, this change is almost unavoidable.

"The domain name system is the pillar of electronic commerce, and is more important than the Internet itself. For those who are monitoring the outcome of ICANN's electronic bureaucracy, here are some possible scenarios: A complete breakdown of the domain name registration system. A type of anarchy on the Internet, allowing anyone to register anything. Trademark offices threaten to shut down, intellectual property becomes public domain. A numbering system similar to our telephones takes over, destroying all the fun of promoting and advertising interesting Web names. Battalions of lawyers will band around the world, declaring war on each other. A great windfall for the profession, as monthly billings becomes perpetual."
Source: DomainWars, by Naseem Javed, 1999, Linkbridge Publishers.

For now, English is the big mama of the business language on the global scene, but on the spoken side, Chinese is the big papa. In a few years, as every second person in China gets a business portal, they will become dominating e-commerce players dwarfing the West. China would need its own independent control of how it will play the access game, decide on local languages, suffixes and come up with its own registration and trademark dispute policies rather than wait for annual memos from ICANN.

Many countries have long wanted their own language for the Internet and their own internal systems, while the creation of foreign language suffixes has been a sore point with ICANN. True, there have been some very technical limitations. The Internet is no longer an advanced science project. It's a global engine for the world’s e-commerce, which incidently is driven by brand name accsses and marketing rather some electronic beauracracy.

Just like the break of AT&T into five Baby Bells, which are now running wild on a open-ended telephony, it is equally possible that the Internet could experience a major break-up and a similar fast-track ride to global independence.

Just like the telephony privatization process and the introduction of various splits, there would be dozens of different types of internets, each addressing its own marketing and communication goals. The duplication and multiplication would make usage extremely complex, as if changing from a countryside drive to a maze of 20-lane highways, each with its own checkpoints, driving rules and types of vehicles. It would be like using 20 different airlines to go on a global tour; the journey would remain on target while customs, menus and languages would change each leg of the trip. Indeed, it would be a very colorful but very sluggish journey.

Web surfers would either surf on a single country's internet, or a specific global industry's or a certain language's, and then swim only in that particular ocean. The entire world could become a complex global search engine, and the use of global languages would become mainstream. This is not just a prophecy, rather it is a reality in the making. It will happen soon and it will happen very fast. It will also be the biggest shockwave that modern e-commerce has ever seen.

There are some 247 countries with their assigned top level domains (TLD), each with their own specific requirements and desired goals and an agenda. All it will take is one country to start the domino effect. China has already threantened.

First, there will be a mega shift in the access mechanism, the complete re-thinking of search engine methodologies and optimization. Second, there will be a 10-fold jump in the number of Web sites on different types of internets. Last, there will be a major overhaul of the current domain name system and suffixes, starting a series of races for new suffixes by various big countries.

The globalization of universal corporate image, name identities and cyber branding will become ultra-sophisticated, and consumers all over the world will interact far more with other languages and ethno-cultural issues than just plain English. This will be an extraordinary time for the global branding on e-commerce. Website and domain name managemnent with search engine optimization will get a brand new meaning. The impact on global communication and domain name maganement would awesome. It’s about time for all organizations to better prepare themselves for these upcoming issues or wait till the ninth round.

Naseem Javed, author of Naming for Power, is recognized as a world authority on Global Name Identities, Image, Cyber-Branding and Domain Issues. He introduced The Laws of Corporate Naming in the 80's and also founded ABC Namebank, a consultancy established in New York and Toronto a quarter century ago.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Bill Kraham responded 9 years ago: #1

Thanks for publishing this article on division of the internet among nations. It is of such magnitude, I'll need time to think about it. As a lawyer I see mountain of problems.....seemingly unsolvable. I own 42 domains and should look to the future.


Bill Kraham

Bill KraHAM

Chris McElroy responded 9 years ago: #2

I am on the GNSO/ICANN mailing list and participate in policy discussions related to namespace. I've done so for years. The one thing I can tell you is none of this will happen as fast as suggested by this author, who in all the years I've participated in the general assembly, the DNSO and now the GNSO, I've never heard of him.

The "opinion" expressed in this article that there will be several seperate Internets is not set in stone as he suggests. Nothing is.

His scenario is possible, but not probable. There are many things ICANN can do to prevent it from happening. They don't move fast, nor do governments and international orgs. Whatever happens, it won't happen for awhile.

The need right now is for more IDNs and to open the tld market up so that many tlds in any language can be created by companies willing to take the risk.

These things will be done one at a time and nothing will be hurried. That is something you can count on.

Having new IDNs or TLDs, what this author calls "suffixes", is not going to break up the Internet, nor does it mean they are on seperate Internets. Starting .biz didn't mean starting a new Internet. Creating thousands of new tlds will not mean they are on another Internet either.

It also doesn't mean there will be a "ten-fold" increase in the number of websites. The demand for domain names in some tlds will be very small, in others more. But unless this author expects there to be a ten-fold increase in the number of actual businesses worldwide, then the number of websites won't be a ten-fold increase in the number of websites all at once either.

It also is not "reality in the making" that all languages will become the standard. It is not US Centric to know that english will still be the dominant language on the Internet.

The author also makes it seem way more complicated than it is. If you had thousands of new tlds, it would be no more difficult than using a phone book. .lawyer, .lawyer in spanish, .lawyer in chinese, .car in every language. It would actually be easier for the average user to understand.

Add that to the fact that people use search engines and they click links. They don't check the tld before they click the link. They click it and it takes them where they want to go. The average user does not care how the system got them there, only that it did.

I've been called "NameCritic" online for years. I participated in the domain name buying and selling craze of the 90s. I appraised domain names. I currently advise companies on which domain names to select for their business.

Couple that with my experience in Internet Governance, and I think I can safely debate this topic with a "world authority on Global Name Identities, Image, Cyber-Branding and Domain Issues."

PacRim Jim responded 9 years ago: #3

If you want to ensure that 95% of countries get no more Internet traffic, babelize it.

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