ICANN Should Leave Concerns about Closed gTLDs to Antitrust Regulators

The International Center for Law & Economics and TechFreedom filed comments yesterday urging ICANN to approve applications for closed generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) like .BOOK and .BLOG. Closed gTLD registry operators would not be required to allow all applicants to register domain names within the TLD, as .COM is, but could instead manage the entire TLD as their own platforms. We urged ICANN to refer competition concerns to national antitrust authorities, consistent with ICANN’s proper role as a global coordinator rather than a regulator. The following statement can be attributed to Geoffrey Manne, Executive Director of the International Center for Law & Economics and Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom:

Critics are decrying ICANN’s authorization of closed gTLDs, claiming they could be anticompetitive. But closed gTLDs would provide the most innovative alternatives ” and strongest competition ” to .COM and today’s most popular domain names. Today’s market leaders won’t be beat by simply copying them, no matter how much money is spent on ads. New entrants must offer consumers something new and different. Closing the TLD may sound nefarious, but it gives the registry operator the incentive to invest not only in marketing the TLD, but also in innovative new business models that may change the paradigm of how TLDs function. The operator of .HOTELS would no more “monopolize” the hotel booking market than the owner of hotels.com does today. But it could turn the domain name system into a more useful and accessible form of navigation, while offering new features like added security or thematic consistency consistent across the TLD. That’s just Marketing 101.

The future of the domain space will inevitably be messy and unpredictable in the best sense. But it is precisely that messiness ” that unpredictability, that constant shifting of basic paradigms ” that will most benefit consumers. Forcing new gTLDs to replicate the paradigm of .COM will not.

There may end up being legitimate concerns about a registry’s abuse of market power, but such concerns should be handled by those best positioned to evaluate them: national competition authorities. ICANN should be a coordinator of the domain name space, not the global regulator of the Internet.

Manne and Szoka are available for comment at [email protected].