Commerce Dept. criticizes Internet addressing plan

WASHINGTON - A proposal to create hundreds of new Internet domain names as alternatives to ‘.com’ has suffered a setback as a key U.S. government agency warned that the plan might not benefit consumers or promote competition.

By (AP)

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Published: Tue 23 Dec 2008, 12:18 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:14 AM

The Internet’s key oversight body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, had planned to start accepting bids for new Internet suffixes early next year in what would be the first major overhaul of a decades-old addressing system.

But in a letter sent to ICANN last week, a top Commerce Department official, Meredith Baker, said it wasn’t clear ‘whether the potential consumer benefits outweigh the potential costs.’ Baker heads the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA letter argues that before introducing new domain names, ICANN needs to ensure that the plan would not jeopardize the stability and security of the Internet addressing system. And it says ICANN needs to examine whether companies operating the new domain name registries would have too much market power, including the power to raise domain name prices, and whether there should be more competition in the renewal of domain names.

Michael Palage, an adjunct fellow with the free-market think tank Progress & Freedom Foundation, said consumer protection is a top concern of trademark holders, including many big corporations, which often buy up multiple Internet addresses containing their company names to safeguard their brands, avoid consumer confusion and head off cybersquatters, phishing attacks and fraud.

Addressing concerns that ICANN could censor some controversial domain names, the NTIA letter also directs the organization to focus on technical functions related to the managing the Internet addressing system and ‘not on matters more appropriately addressed by governments, such as adjudication of morality, public order and community objections.’

In June, ICANN approved new guidelines to make it easier for organizations and groups to propose and obtain new suffixes that could cover locations such as ‘.nyc’ and ‘.berlin’ or industries such as ‘.bank.’ The organization now is crafting the specifics and had invited outside groups, including NTIA, to comment.

Although the U.S. cannot technically dictate ICANN policy, it has significant sway over the organization since ICANN handles administration of the domain name system under a contract with the U.S. government. As a result, ICANN cannot add any new domain names without U.S. approval.

It’s unclear, though, whether the NTIA’s criticisms would derail ICANN’s plan given the upcoming change in administration, said Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor who is a member of a group representing universities and other non-commercial domain name users.

Still, the NTIA letter does mark the latest evolution in the relationship between ICANN and the U.S. government, which took steps to hand off technical coordination of Internet addressing system to the organization in the late 1990s.

While ICANN has been seeking to assert its independence in the face of international concerns that it remains an instrument of the U.S. government, the U.S. still wants to make sure that as ICANN’s oversight role grows it doesn’t take actions that might threaten the stability and security of the Internet or the interests of business and consumers, Palage said.

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