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Critics stage last-ditch effort to derail domain name expansion plan

Carolyn Duffy Marsan | Dec. 20, 2011
Debate around a controversial plan to add hundreds of new domain name extensions to the Internet infrastructure has reached a fever pitch in the nation's capital, as critics engage in a last-ditch effort to scrap or delay the plan, which is scheduled to launch Jan. 12.

Despite the loud criticism of the new gTLD program from many quarters, it appears that there is little that the FTC or U.S. Congress can do to stop or delay the ICANN plan. At a Dec. 8 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) admitted such and merely requested that ICANN "listen to our concerns as you go forward."

The House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a similar hearing Dec. 14, where members urged ICANN to run a pilot project first before opening up the Internet to hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of new domain name extensions. But the House also lacks authority to require this change.

Meanwhile, ICANN continues to defend its new gTLD program as the result of five years of debate that was open to all Internet stakeholders. ICANN says the hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of new gTLDs will increase competition, choice and innovation for organizations that do business online. ICANN also says the new gTLDs will offer better protection for intellectual property and better defense against malicious conduct than the original gTLDs, such as .com, .net and .org.

Kurt Pritz, senior vice president of stakeholder relations at ICANN, told the Senate committee that the new gTLD program "is consistent with ICANN's mission to increase consumer choice, competition and innovation. Organizations will now have the opportunity to apply for gTLDs in the scripts of the world's languages, to open the world's marketplace further and to welcome the next billion non-English speaking users to the Internet."

Experts predict the new gTLD program will kick off in January as planned.

"I'm cautiously optimistic" that ICANN will launch the new gTLD program on Jan. 12, said Alexa Raad, former CEO of the .org registry and now CEO of Architelos, which offers consulting services to domain name registries. Delaying the program is "a political risk not only to ICANN but to the Internet in general. The economic interests who have been planning and wanting new gTLDs are going to go forward and they are going to give up on the consensus-building approach taken by ICANN. ... It's going to fracture the DNS root and that's irrevocable harm."

ICANN has been debating its new gTLD program for five years and finally gave it the go-ahead in June.

Currently, the Internet has 22 gTLDs, including .com, .net and .org. More than 215 million domain names were registered as of August 2011, with .com names accounting for more than 90 million of them, according to Verisign.

 

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