The group that manages the Internet's address system is grappling with frustrated governments that want a greater say in such hot-button issues as the introduction of new domain names. One of the hottest - the .xxx domain extension.
While the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has yet to release its agenda for its Friday meeting in San Francisco, the board is expected to take action on a longstanding issue of whether to approve the introduction of a .xxx extension for adult content.
ICANN, a California-based nonprofit corporation, approved the proposal in 2007 to basically open up the Internet to almost any new Internet address. But it is still in the process of implementing its proposal and has yet to set a date for when it will start accepting applications.
Among those who have objected to a .xxx domain is the Government Advisory Committee , a group of representatives who monitor ICANN's activities for their national governments. This group said in a letter to ICANN this week that some governments that oppose such a domain name may block access to it if it is approved.
The Free Speech Coalition, an association that represents the adult entertainment industry, also opposes the .xxx domain.
The group argues that if .xxx is approved, "domains will cost adult website operators millions annually in unnecessary fees; will make adult websites easier to block by governments and other anti-adult entities; and could needlessly fragment the Internet."
Most observers don't expect ICANN to resolve this or other issues about expanding domain names at its Friday board meeting but it may make some progress in addressing a list of about a dozen concerns about the rollout of new names raised by the Government Advisory Committee.
These concerns include proposals for improving the protection of trademarks when new domains are introduced and better procedures for examining names that might raise concerns within certain countries such as those based on a nationality, religion or ethnicity.
The Government Advisory Committee has sought to review applications for new names and exert a veto over objectionable domain names. ICANN has agreed to some of the committee's suggestions and has said it would allow the panel to provide input on new names before they are approved. But ICANN has not committed to providing governments with a veto.
This week, Government Advisory Committee representatives argued for an early warning process for objectionable new domain names that would give them a chance to raise possible issues about a name before an application for such a name is approved.
The dispute points to a larger issue related to Internet governance. Some countries have pushed over the years for the International Telecommunication Union to have a greater say in ICANN's operations or even to take over some of ICANN's functions. The United States has resisted, saying it would stifle Internet growth and innovation.
"While some nations persist in proposing such measures as giving the International Telecommunication Union the authority to veto ICANN Board decisions, the United States is most assuredly opposed to establishing a governance structure for the Internet that would be managed and controlled by nation-states," Lawrence Strickling, head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said in a speech to ICANN on Monday.
"Critical to the success of the ICANN model is finding a way to better integrate the perspectives of governments," Jonathan Zuck, president of Association for Competitive Technology, said in an interview.
While he believes the ICANN model is largely working, Zuck said his group wants to strengthen ICANN from within and make sure it "has sufficiently rigorous processes and accountability to be more impervious to criticism from the outside."
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