China bypassess ICANN and creates their own domains

Came across an article the other day about China’s recent step to create what amounts to their own domain name system that operates outside of ICANN’s oversight.

It’s an interesting step on a few fronts. Needless to say the first issue that comes to mind for many are the issues of censorship. With this new layer of domain names China has full control of who gets what address and where it points.

Some Internet analysts say that by setting up addresses that don’t rely on ICANN, China is gradually creating a domestic Internet that will be far more susceptible to censorship than the US-controlled version. ”Chinese users in theory right now will still have access to both,” said Michael Geist, Internet law professor at the University of Ottawa. But over time, Geist said, the Chinese could completely disconnect from the ICANN system and route all internal Internet traffic through their own domain servers. ”It’s now a Chinese-controlled system,” Geist said. The process could make it easier for Chinese censors to block out ”subversive” information from outside the country, he said.

Personally I think at this stage that while it is certainly something to watch I don’t see China unhooking from the web any time soon – I don’t really view this step as having censorship as a primary motivator. Also, as the article points out later, China can already futz with the Root servers located in their country (and it’s widely believed they are) which gives them control over which sites can and cannot be displayed. (from what I’ve seen & read it is almost impossible to access any blogspot hosted blog, like this one, from mainland China)

Which brings us to the second consideration, which centers on the whole localization/globalization space – a major challenge that many have with the existing ICANN structure is that domains can only be created using Roman characters.

Subbiah, cofounder of I-DNS.net, a Singapore company that sells Internet domain names created in non-Western writing systems, said that China lost patience with ICANN, which has not made Internet addresses available in Asian writing systems. Chinese Internet users can type a website address in Chinese, until they get to the Internet domain, such as .com or .net. Those letters must be typed in Roman letters, because ICANN has not adopted a technology for recognizing the words in Chinese, Arabic, Korean, or other non-Western languages.

As the web becomes more and more ubiquitous it will certainly become more and more important for non-English/non-Western domains to become available for people to use when accessing sites.

From reading this article, and taking a look at i-dns.net it’s fairly clear that i-dns.net are the guys behind the Chinese alternate domain system. While I agree with the goal (of having non-Western domains) I don’t know that I can say I agree with the method of stepping outside the current system but at the pace things are moving at ICANN compared to the rest of the world it may have been their only choice.

China is a really interesting country to watch when it comes to Internet and general technology advancement. Between this and all the flack Google has taken over their entry into the Chinese market it has been a pretty hot topic. I actually agree with Google’s approach to China so far – there was a great post on the Google blog a month or so ago about their testimony to Congress about their reasons for approaching China in the way they did.

At the end of the day both of these solutions revolve around a common issue – access to information in China was spotty and unpredictable. By dealing with official channels both companies had the opportunity to improve the quality of access to information for Chinese Internet users – the drawback of course is the issue of censorship.

While I in no way condone the concept of censorship I think the overall benefit of users having more reliable or easier access to the information their government lets them see outweighs the cons of having to go along with the governments wishes. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter if Google “went” to China or not – the government was still blocking that information. More information of any type will lead to better informed citizens and I think it’s an important baby step in breaking down a system of censorship.

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