Beckstrom: I came to change Icann

Summary:Icann is preparing for new generic top-level domain applications. Rod Beckstrom, the chief executive of Icann, talks to ZDNet UK about his work at the heart of the internet

Icann is gearing up for new generic top-level domains. Between January and April next year, governments and other organisations will be able to apply for internet extensions, for example .wales or .pacific, in place of the existing ones such as .com and .net.

Organisations that administer generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will effectively become registries, and control part of the internet infrastructure. New gTLDs will also allow Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs), letting organisations use non-Latin character sets in top-level domains.

These are some of the innovations overseen by Icann chief executive Rod Beckstrom, who will come to the end of his term in July 2012. He has also presided over historic changes to internet governance, including Icann distancing itself from direct US Department of Commerce control, and the signing of the DNSSec root. A number of executives have left office during Beckstrom's term, prompting some critics to question his management style.

Beckstrom, a technology entrepreneur, served as director of the US National Cybersecurity Center before joining Icann. He spoke to ZDNet UK in the week that Icann launched a gTLD applicant handbook.

Q: Some security companies, commenting on Internationalised Domain Names, have said that some characters can be used to spoof domain names, for example, using Cyrillic instead of Latin letters to try to fool people. What is Icann's take on international-character security?
A: At Icann, during gTLD applications, there is a string confusion test, policy and process. Cyrillic and Latin have some characters which look quite similar, but there is a set channel and policy to get around problems [including use of an algorithm to determine character set].

Some critics of gTLDs, notably advertisers, have said that no general studies have been conducted about the overall economic impact of gTLDs.
There have been a number of studies, but none are definitive. You can't come up with a precise forecast for innovation. When you draw up, new innovation tends to get a net benefit.

The Icann applications alone cost $185,000 (£120,000). Are costs a barrier to new gTLD entry for groups of small businesses and charities?
The established costs of a new gTLD are estimated to be several millions of dollars over a 10-year period, for approval and operations costs. Fees to Icann are below 25 percent of that. The fees are a small amount of the overall costs. Icann is non-profit, and these are costs we absorb during the process of the application.

We see applicants that like to have financial support, with joint applicants supporting a working group.

There have been some complaints about gTLDs, including a lack of open discussion. Can Icann processes be improved?
You can always improve the nature of open political processes. When some partners don't get what they want, they are going to say they were not listened to, and advocates will continue to advocate their point of view. One stakeholder group is not going to get what they want if that's unfair to other stakeholders. These different interest groups have different takes.

Have any stakeholders been particularly vocal about gTLDs?
Advertisers have been one of the groups that have objected to new gTLDs. In a recent letter to me, the Association of National Advertisers didn't refer to two previous programme points where they pretty much got what they are asking for, but they are a paid association and will continue to ask for more.

Other groups are still working to...

Topics: Innovation


Tom is a technology reporter for, writing about all manner of security and open-source issues.Tom had various jobs after leaving university, including working for a company that hired out computers as props for films and television, and a role turning the entire back catalogue of a publisher into e-books.Tom eventually found tha... Full Bio

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