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[wg-b] Friday's dot union briefing
On Friday, March 31, I attended a briefing on the issue of the .union
internet top level domain (TLD). The meeting was organized by Manon
Ress <firstname.lastname@example.org>. There were 17 participants, including the
union members and the speakers. I was one of the speakers, as were
Becky Burr and Mark Bohannon from the US Department of Commerce and
Michael Palage, who is Chair of ICANN's working group B on trademark
issues. The AFC-CIO and a number of unions attended.
The meeting was organized for informational purposes, and it was
probably the first meeting of its type as it relates to the creation of
new TLDS for labor unions. In the beginning, it was made clear by the
union representatives that they were gathering information, to see if
the union community had interests that should be represented in the
ICANN process, and if unions would become involved in efforts to create
a .union TLD.
I started off by providing backgrond on the DNS system and some of the
policy issues that ICANN was addressing in the discussions over new
TLDs. I talked about our earlier proposal to create several new TLDs,
incuding .union, for a variety of civil society purposes. I indicated
that we had raised these issues in the ICANN process to insure that
decisions on issues such as the use of famous names would not forclose
the use of a company or product name in connection with various domains
that were related to organizing workers, consumers and for criticisms.
(i.e., boeing.union, nike.union, texaco.isnotfair, aol.sucks, etc). I
said that while we had raised the issue of the .union domain, in order
to address various ICANN policy discussions, we thought the unions
themselves should control .union (a view not shared by everyone in the
I said there were currently 244 country code TLDS, and 7 TLDs outside of
the country codes, including 4 that were restricted (.int, .gov, .edu
and .mil) and 3 that were unrestricted (.com, .net and .org), and that
from a technical point of view, the system could accomodate hundreds of
thousands if not millions more TLDs. The issues regarding expansion of
the TLD space were political, not technical.
I provided some examples of different ways the .union domain might be
used. The first would be to provide a way to indicate if a domain was
controlled by a bona fide union, just like .gov or .edu does for the
government or real higher degree granting educational institutions. It
could also be used to provide a predictable location for information
about union information for a particular firm. For example, at gm.union
or microsoft.union, workers could find links to unions that were
organizing workers at that company. In the common situation where there
were more than one union, the TLD could provide for gateways to each
union's information (such as is done for http://www.scrabble.com now, to
accomodate different owners of the scrabble trademark in the US and and
Canada (Hasbro) and elsewhere (Mattel), an example that Michael Palage
had provided. Unions could also create sites like hotels.union,
printers.union, airlines.union or supermarket.union, to provide their
members and the public with links to unionized businesses, or
information about unions issues or campaigns in these areas. These were
only a few of the possible uses of a TLD.
I said that ICANN would be deciding, relatively soon, the rules for new
TLDs, and that there were important issues, such as the ability to
restrict the registration, or the use of company name
Becky Burr and Mark Bohannon from DOC then make presentations. Becky
expanded the background of the Green Paper and White Paper, the ICANN
process, how .edu and .us worked, and other items. Mark Bohannon then
went on an extended discussion of why unions might not need .union.
Mark said they could do everything they needed by using the .org
domain. They didn't need boeing.union, he said, if they could get
boeingunion.org (assuming Boeing or someonelse didn't buy it first).
The AFLCIO already had aflcio.org, so they could be found on the
Internet, without a .union TLD. IMO, the suggestion that unions could
be happy sharing .org with everyone, saving themselves the trouble of
getting .union, was not particularly well recieved, although there were
differences of views among the participants.
The union members wanted to know if it would be possible for a non-union
group to get the .union TLD. Becky told the meeting that if the AFLCIO
wanted to block someone from getting .union, they could. Mark and Becky
also said that if the unions wanted .union, they could probably do it,
but that they would have to provide a consensus proposal (consensus
among stakeholders, in this case the labor movement), it would have to
address the international aspect of ICANN, and it would have to follow
the rules laid down by ICANN and DOC on issues such as intellectual
property and disclosure of the names of domain owners.
Some union members wanted to know about alternative root systems and to
talk about the issues of ICANN's power and control over the Internet.
Becky and Mark said that they did not want to stop people from
experimenting with these alternatives at this time, but that they were
Michael Palage provide an explanation of the ICANN working group B
process and the trademark issues. Michael make distinctions between the
trademark issues for a domain like .biz and domains like .union, in
terms of the appropriate use of a trademarked name in connection with a
TLD. Michael also provided a very good explanation of the value of a
TLD to the union community, the "union label" was the phrase Michael and
several others used in the meeting. He gave pretty straight answers to
questions about the ICANN process, and responded to a number of
interesting technical questions raised by the union members. He said
the key to success in the ICANN process was to minimize enemies, and he
did not appear to have made any enemies at the this meeting.
Given the fact that this was an informational meeting, I don't think it
is appropriate for me to report on the details of the discussions among
the union members, and in any event, the speakers were asked to leave at
one point so the unions could talk about this in private.
However, I can report that there were a range of opinions expressed
during and before the meeting. There were some differences among the
union members in terms of their backgrounds, but they were very well
prepared, and knew quite a bit about the topic. The opinions seemed to
range everywhere from "this isn't very important and would be a
distraction" to "this could fundamentally change the labor movement."
Some union members are clearly thinking that the .union TLD could be
used very effectively in organizing efforts, particularly if new digital
signature initiatives permit online organizing and even voting. Also,
some members think it has the potential to enhance cooperation among
unions, including among unions in different countries, in dealing with a
single company. Others are uncomfortable with the larger ambitions.
Jamie Love <email@example.com>
James Love, Director | http://www.cptech.org
Consumer Project on Technology | mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
P.O. Box 19367 | voice: 1.202.387.8030
Washington, DC 20036 | fax: 22.214.171.12476