News & Opinions

The End of Internet Equality?

The Internet is now an intrinsic part of our everyday lives both personally and professionally. Yet, whether we are using it for work, research or entertainment, we rarely stop and think about how it actually works – so long as we get to the sites we want quickly we don’t wonder about the complexity beneath. Perhaps now we should.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit corporation that oversees a number of Internet-related tasks, recently announced they will be changing the types of domain names that are available and offering, among other things, company extensions such as .amazon and .nike to help businesses target the right audience and enhance their brand image.

At first glance this seems like an interesting proposition, but with an entry fee of $185,000 along with annual management cost, this new development could exclude many organisations, especially small businesses, from taking part.

ICANN argues these new types of domain names will be a more secure way to protect brands. However, what will be the impact for companies that cannot afford the high entry cost? This type of investment could be prohibitively expensive for smaller organisations, especially in a fragile economic context. SMEs account for 56 percent of the UK’s workforce and 52 percent of its turnover – 4.7 million businesses that could be excluded entirely from the process.

SMEs have been working hard to level the playing field and there are many technologies that enable them to do just that. ICANN’s regulation has the opposite effect making it much harder for small businesses to compete in an increasingly global world. This will create a wider gap between big and small on the Internet, a traditionally neutral (or at least size-blind) place.

ICANN argues that it will be a great addition to marketing tools as offline advertising can be linked to special website names and it will help against brand counterfeit, but the unintended consequence could be the creation of an internet that is no longer equal and truly accessible to all.

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