gTLD-MoU (Generic Top Level Domain Name-Memorandum of Understanding) is a document prepared by the Internet Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) containing proposals to resolve the problems associated with the Domain Name System (DNS) domain name allocations. The gTLD-MoU proposed the creation of new gTLDs and to transfer the management of the DNS from the U.S. government to a self-regulatory organization composed of members of both the public and private sectors, with online alternative dispute resolution being administered by WIPO and others. The document was introduced to the Internet community on February 28, 1997. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General was responsible for circulating the gTLD-MoU and inviting public and private Internet stakeholders to voluntarily support and actively participate in the implementation process.
In 1992, Network Solutions (NSI) received a five-year contract from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to manage domain name registration and to handle the coordination and maintenance functions of the Domain Name System. Under the NSF Cooperative Agreement, NSI was to handle these responsibilities on a "cost-plus-fee" basis wherein NSF would reimburse all the expenses of NSI plus a fixed fee. In 1996, Network Solutions started restrictions on domain name registrations, which led to the emergence of cybersquatters. Trademark infringement became a major concern among legitimate owners. NSI also began charging an annual $50 registration fee for domain names. In mid-1996, Jon Postel proposed changes to the DNS management, including the creation of 50 competing domain name registries to handle domain name registration and the creation of 150 new TLDs. The Internet community's reaction to Postel's proposal was mixed. Some supported it while others, particularly the technical community, criticized it. The proposal was revised and re-issued and was subsequently supported by the Internet Society. Further discussions and revisions were initiated to implement changes in DNS management, but the Internet community were not able to reach a common consensus. The Internet Society and IANA organized the Internet Ad Hoc Committee to resolve the issue. The IAHC was composed of members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the ITU, and the Federal Networking Council (FNC), and this group created the gTLD-MoU.
gTLD-MoU Self-Regulatory Framework
The gTLD-MoU proposed a self-regulatory framework composed of:
- The Depository of the gTLD-MoU- responsible for distributing the gTLD-MoU and maintaining the list of signatories. This responsibility was assigned to the ITU Sec. General.
- Policy Oversight Committee (POC)- the decision-making body of the organization, which has the authority to implement regulations for the Council of Registrars such as the number, requirements and elimination of registrars. The POC is composed of 12 members, who were appointed as such:
- Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) – 2 members
- Internet Society (ISOC) – 2 members
- Representative of the Depository of this MoU -1 member
- Internet Architecture Board (IAB) – 2 members
- Council of Registrars (CORE) – 2 members
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – 1 member
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – 1 member
- International Trademark Association (INTA) - 1 member
- Policy Advisory Body (PAB)- responsible for making general policy recommendations to the Policy Oversight Committee regarding amendments to the MoU, recommendations should be related to gTLDs and the DNS.
- Council of Registrars (CORE)- composed of recognized registrars, to be created under the name CORE, as a Swiss association under the laws of the Swiss government. Registrars should be member of CORE and must be a signatory of the CORE-MoU. Registrars will be assigned second level domain names (SLDs) in any gTLDs.
- Administrative Domain Name Challenge Panels (ACPs)- responsible for handling domain name disputes. ACPs will be organized by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center in Geneva, Switzerland, however, staff from WIPO will not be included in any panel. Registrars are mandated to honor the decisions of any panel.
A significant number of entities within the Internet community supported the gTLD-MoU but many also expressed their criticism. Eric T. Fingerhut & P.L. Skip Singleto, Jr. were among those critics. They wrote a paper entitled, "The gTLD-MoU: A Yellow Flag for Trademark Owners on the Information Superhighway," which cautioned the Internet community about the negative implications of the gTLD-MoU proposals. They claim that the initiators of the gTLD-MoU, particularly IAHC & iPOC, were working to "complete their takeover of the domain name system ... They pretend to offer cooperation, yet they are actively setting up assets and infrastructure offshore to complete a takeover as soon as possible."
Other critics expressed their concern that the gTLD-MoU was primarily initiated by the Internet engineering community; that the interests of business stakeholders were not properly represented; the technological development was viewed as aggressive; and the implementation schedule was too speedy. In addition, many disapproved the IAHC proposal because it failed to provide a solution for the lack competition, which was a main problem for the Internet community. Furthermore, the Internet community was concerned that the International Telecommunications Union might take over the management of the DNS. The IAHC failed to address all the concerns of the critics and the internet community remained divided and dissatisfied with the proposal. Because of the situation, President Bill Clinton instructed the Department of Commerce to develop solutions for the concerns of the Internet community. "A Proposal to Improve Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses," referred to as the Green Paper, was released for comments. This was followed by the the White Paper, which lead to the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.