Who should run a new .charity domain name?

The internet is breaking. It’s been on our radar for some time that ICANN – the body that oversees the internet – has invited applications to establish new global Top Level Domains (gTLDs). Examples are .com .org and .coop. An explanation of why we need more gTLDs is here, but broadly speaking its because the internet is getting bigger. The existing 22 gTLDs will be supplemented by many, many more: ICANN is currently running a competion for those wanting to establish new gTLDs, the entry price for which is a cool $185,000. Keep reading – this matters – and we need to act by 12th August!

Why does this matter to charities?

There are almost 2,000 applications – we’re not sure how many will make it through. Included in the proposals are applications to develop gTLDs that could – and almost certainly will – relate to charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Here’s a list of the most obvious applications (xls), pulled together by Dave Kane. Over at UK Fundraising, there’s some great commentary by Simon Scriver on those relevant to our sector.

You might have head about .ngo. There’s also a proposal for .charity. So in this new world, we could register www.ncvo.charity as a web address. Or somebody else could.

The one we are concerned about (as is at least one of our members) is the .charity gTLD. Two companies have applied to establish this – and in both cases the motivation appears to be primarily profit making. This isnt a bad thing per se – but our view is that the .charity domain, should it be established, would better be in the hands of a nonprofit organisation such as the Public Interest Registry, which runs the .org gTLD. A nonprofit organisation is bidding to run the .ngo domain.

The .org gTLD is run as a community-based gTLD: “this is operated for the benefit of a clearly delineated community. An applicant designating its application as community-based must be prepared to substantiate its status as representative of the community it names in the application”. Our concern – which may be misplaced – is that the those seeking to run .charity domain are primarily motivated by profit maximisation. (The applicants seeking to run .charity have applied to run numerous domains, which implies they have little intrinsic interest in charity.)

The addition of the .charity domain may well be a concern for those seeking to protect their names from cyber-squatters and the like. There’s some discussion of issues regarding trademark protection here, with an ICANN factsheet here (PDF).

What can your organisation do?

We can tell ICANN that we want .charity to be run as a community-based domain. But: we’ve got until the 12th August 2012 to register comments and objections to the panels evaluating applications for gTLDs. You’ll need to set up an account to comment – its quick and easy, guidance is here (PDF). The proposals to establish .charity have been made by Spring Registry Ltd and Corn Lake LLC. NCVO is objecting on the following basis:

Community – This  objection ground allows formal objections to be filed by parties with standing if there is substantial opposition to the gTLD application from a significant portion of the community to which the gTLD string may be explicitly or implicitly targeted.

Our responses are here and here. I hope you can make a contribution to the evaluation of these new domains too – and I would be interested to hear from those with a different take on this.

**Update: this blog from Independent Sector (NCVO’s equivalent in the US) is very helpful and worth reading.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

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