Two senior lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee are urging the Commerce Department to try to delay the rollout of a program that could dramatically expand the number of Internet addresses.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the California nonprofit picked by the Commerce Department in 1998 to manage the Internet's domain name system, is set to begin accepting applications for the new domain name program Jan. 12 despite a growing chorus of protests against the proposal.
The latest criticism comes from Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., a senior Judiciary member and the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. They joined other lawmakers in recent weeks who have raised concerns about the domain name plan and have called for a delay in its launch. Trademark holders, including many of the nation's biggest corporations, say the new program could cost them millions of dollars to register their brands in the new names -- or launch new domain names themselves.
"We urge the department to take steps necessary to delay the roll out of these new [domain names] until a more thorough analysis and evaluation of the potential costs and benefits of all these factors is concluded and until the department can assure Congress and the American public with absolute confidence that the benefits of the proposed rollout exceed the costs and risks to consumers, businesses and the Internet," Goodlatte and Berman wrote in a letter on Friday. They called on the department to answer several questions about the program's development and rollout by Jan. 5.
Their letter was sent the same day that the Federal Trade Commission formally outlined the agency's concerns with the new program. "We write now to highlight again the potential for significant consumer harm resulting from the unprecedented increase in new" domain names, all four FTC commissioners said in a letter Friday to ICANN.
The commissioners said a dramatic expansion of domain names will make the already challenging task of tracking down Internet scam artists even harder. They urged ICANN to limit the number of new domain names that can be introduced in the first round, increase numbers of staff charged with ensuring compliance with ICANN policies, and improve the accuracy of data about people who register addresses in the new domain names, which the commissioners noted has been problematic for many years.
So far, ICANN has given little indication that it is willing to delay the program's launch. During two congressional hearings in recent weeks and a statement in response to the FTC letter, ICANN continues to defend the program.
"The new program offers significant protections beyond those that exist in current [top-level domain names], including new mandatory intellectual property rights protection mechanisms and heightened measures to mitigate against malicious conduct," ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said in a statement released Saturday.
After expressing concerns earlier this year, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has some oversight over ICANN, has said it is satisfied with the protections ICANN has in place and pledged to closely monitor the program's rollout.
The agency, however, is in a difficult position. Some countries want the United Nation's International Telecommunication Union to take over ICANN's duties, a move the United States opposes. Given this, the United States has as a strong interest in ensuring ICANN succeeds, and thus does not want to be seen as imposing U.S. will on the nonprofit, which is supposed to operate based on input from Internet stakeholders around the world.
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