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Tussle on Domain Names

On Jan. 12, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to open the window on new top-level domain names despite pushback from top Democrats and Republicans, advertisers and media companies, cable operators, nonprofits and even some federal agencies.

They are all arguing that ICANN has not demonstrated the pressing need to expand the number of such domains from 22 to as many as 300—with that startling increase being for just the first window alone. The downside of that expansion, they argue, is the millions of dollars it will cost to defend brands—like Nickelodeon or CBS—from domain cybersquatters, and the increased potential for scamming and fraud. ICANN counters that it came up with the plan in consultation with stakeholders and that there are built-in safeguards meant to counter scamming and discourage squatters. (See Editorial).

Over the past several weeks, House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, joined by the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, have all suggested that ICANN scale back its rollout or delay it altogether. “Although we believe expanding the gTLDs is a worthy goal that may lead to increased competition on the Internet,” a bipartisan group of 16 House Energy & Commerce Committee members wrote in a letter to ICANN, “we are very concerned that there is a significant uncertainty in this process for businesses, nonprofit organizations and consumers.”

While the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the White House’s chief telecom policy adviser, has backed the rollout, an NTIA source told B&C that officials there are attuned to industry complaints, stating, “The business community is an important stakeholder in this process….We have been in conversations with some companies about the introduction of new gTLDs to better understand their concerns.”