Domain Name Registry Expansion Runs Into Pushback on Hill

Expansion of the top-level domain name registry (.com, .gov) by 300, 500 or 1,000 or more names ran into major pushback on the Hill in the second hearing in as many weeks on ICANN's planned January launch of the three-month application window for new names to the left of the do.

In June, ICANN approved allowing virtually any top-level Internet endings, pushing beyond the current list of 22 (such as .com, .org and .net) to a virtually unlimited number, including branded names like, say, .aftra or .nab.

Following a Senate hearing last week, the House Energy & Commerce Committee followed up with many of the same witnesses. The bipartisan consensus of the committee members seemed to be that ICANN should delay the rollout, or perhaps scale it back to a pilot program.

Among the issues of concern are the cost of registry, that the expansion could encourage cybersquatting, that it would cost companies millions to protect their brands, and that there could be consumer confusion and the possibility of providing personal information to a bogus site.

Kurt Pritz, senior VP of ICANN, said there were copyright protections in place, that the cost of the domain names -- $185,000 plus $25,000 a year -- was to cover costs (ICANN is a nonprofit) including six diffferent evaluations to make sure the names went to reputable companies and not squatters or scammers.

California Democrats Anna Eshoo and Doris Matsui agreed they thought the program was not ready for primte time, and thought the concerns about squatting and phishing and spamming should be resolved before the window was opened and could not be closed.

Dan Jaffee, executive VP, ANA, one of the repeat witnesses from last week's Senate hearing, echoed his warning about the threat to billions of dollars of investment in thousands of brands.

He said that ICANN was not sufficiently protecting the 22 names it had already handed out, and should get a better handle on that problem before allowing hundreds and perhaps thousands more names.

Jaffee said that if ICANN can't tell who is causing harm on the internet, that creates a "massive hole" in online protections, and then to roll out a "supertanker" of new names with a clear hole in the hull is not a way to get businesses or nonprofits on board.

Ed Markey (D-Mass.), said his concerns were twofold: One was that ICANN had not demonstrated that there was a shortage of names that needed addressing. Two was that businesses and consumers could be hurt, particularly if there was confusion between real brands and bogus ones that could cause those consumers to inadvertently supply personal information.

That online protection was much on Markey's mind Wednesday. He was scheduled to move quickly from the hearing to a kids online privacy forum.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.