Background

A new wave of debate has been sparked in light of a new publication from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to deal with the allocation of new top level domain names.

The document outlines ICANN's intention to auction the domain names where there is more than one interested party. This process is radically different from the usual 'comparative evaluation' which relies on a subjective judgement call on who the successful candidate to own a domain name should be. However, such a comparative approach has been heavily criticised as being a long, drawn-out process which is heavily resource dependent, lacks transparency and which, in turn, leads to it being vulnerable to corruption.

The selling point for auctions

As a result of such perceived downfalls, ICANN feels that an auction process for competitive domain names might be the most effective way of dealing with the issue. In contrast to a traditional comparative evaluation model, auctions are objective and transparent "given that bids are observable and verifiable by a court or any third party … the final allocation is less likely to be legally contested relative to a comparative selection procedure".

An example provided by ICANN is that supposing Applicant A has a legitimate reason for wanting the domain name which will benefit many users, he will be far more likely to justify and place a higher bid than Applicant B who intends to use the name in connection with a narrow purpose. As a result, the more 'worthy' Applicant (Applicant A) would be successful. ICANN explains that a traditional comparative evaluation would potentially render a different, less justifiable outcome since Applicant B could perhaps be more persuasive or have hired a more effective consultant or lobbyist, resulting in them being successful instead.

Furthermore, distinct from the long process of comparative evaluation, it is generally felt that auction of domain names will be far less time consuming, with conclusion likely to be possible in a timescale of between one day and one week.

The problems

However, as with any new idea, the proposed introduction of auctions has not been without its critics.

Various commentators have voiced concern over its promotion and encouragement of capitalist practices. Instead of the idealistic outcome of the most worthy bidders being successful, the reality is that only those bidders with the deepest pockets will be the eventual winners. As one critic, Patrick Vande Walle has stated, "[t]here is no room for gTLD's wishing to remain purposefully small."

Comment

The introduction of new concepts in this rapidly evolving area have always been contentious, however perhaps this development signals a significant change in the way the internet will operate commercially in the future.