Two key former officials with the nonprofit group that manages the Internet's domain name system are raising concerns with its plan to allow an unlimited number of generic Internet addresses, the top-level domain name suffixes that come after the dot like .com or .org.
Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf and tech investor Esther Dyson chaired the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers during its early years, when the group was introducing the first set of new domain names to compete with the only Internet addresses available to the public at the time: .com, .net. and .org. They now said they see several potential problems with ICANN's latest domain name plan, which has sparked strong opposition from major trademark owners.
Dyson was ICANN's founding chairman of the board from 1998-2000, while Cerf, one of the pioneers in the Internet's development, succeeded Dyson in 2000 and served until 2007. Despite their past association with ICANN, neither has a formal role with the group any more.
Following an appearance at an unrelated event on Wednesday, Cerf told Tech Daily Dose that he's "nervous" about ICANN's new domain name proposal. He cited several potential concerns, including that it could create confusion among Internet users, big problems for trademark owners who may feel forced to register their trademark in all the new names or launch their own Internet addresses, and also logistical headaches if any of the operators of the new domain names go out of business.
"At this stage of the game I think the engine is now running, and ICANN will do whatever it does," Cerf said. "We will have to watch and see what happens and figure out what to do if the outcomes turn out to be harmful."
ICANN is currently set to begin accepting applications for the new domain name program in January.
Dyson has raised similar concerns in recent months about ICANN's plan. In a syndicated column in August, Dyson also said expanding the number of domain names reduces the value of those out there already and questioned the motives behind the plan.
"Most of the people active in setting ICANN's policies are involved somehow in the domain-name business, and they would be in control of the new TLDs (top-level domain names) as well. It's worth it to them to spend their time at ICANN meetings (or to send staffers), whereas domain names are just a small part of customers' and user' lives," she wrote. "And that means that the new TLDs are likely to create money for ICANN's primary constituents, but only add costs and confusion for companies and the public at large."
ICANN, which did not respond to a request for comment, says the plan will promote innovation. And it is supported by ICANN's latest chairman, Steve Crocker, a peer of Cerf's in the development of the Internet.