The Department of Commerce has given a big vote of confidence to the nonprofit California-based group that manages the Internet address system. The group has struggled in its rollout of a controversial program allowing for a major expansion of the Internet’s domain names.
Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said late on Monday that it had given the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers a three-year extension on its contract to manage some key technical functions vital to the smooth operation of the Internet, including the allocation of Internet protocol numbers.
NTIA had terminated its original request for proposals for the contract in April after it said no applicant had met the criteria it established. The move was viewed as a slap to ICANN, given that it was considered to be the only likely recipient of the contract, which pays nothing.
The move comes as ICANN continues implementing a program allowing the introduction of a huge number of top-level generic domain names, which are the letters to the far right of the dot in an Internet address. Nearly 2,000 applications were submitted to ICANN by those seeking to run a new domain name that would compete with 22 existing top-level generic domain names, which include .com, .net, and .org.
But the program's rollout has been plagued by problems. ICANN had to temporarily shut down the database that was accepting applications for the new domain-name proposals for nearly a month after a technical glitch allowed applicants to see some information that others had submitted.
And last week, ICANN’s board announced at its meeting in Prague that it was terminating the system it planned to use to evaluate and introduce the new Internet addresses into the domain-name system.
The “digital archery” process ICANN had originally proposed required applicants to send a message to ICANN on a day and time of their choosing, and they would be given a time stamp on how quickly they responded. Those with the quickest response would get their applications evaluated first. Some applicants and other stakeholders worried that the system could be manipulated.
“It just wasn't fair to applicants from around the world, since ‘archery’ response times are more variable the further you are from ICANN's U.S.-based servers,” NetChoice executive director Steve DelBianco, who sits on ICANN’s Business Constituency advisory committee, said on Tuesday. “That should have been obvious to ICANN when they proposed the mechanism, but I'm glad they recognized the problem in time.”
ICANN has not revealed what the replacement process will be, but DelBianco and others said ICANN may decide to evaluate all the applications at once. However, this still doesn’t address in what order it will release the new names that clear the evaluation process. Some of those involved in the process argue that the faster an applicant is able to offer a new name, the better its chances of success.
“The order in which new gTLDs [generic top-level domains] are evaluated and entered into the root could have major implications on the success of all applications,” said Josh Bourne, managing partner of FairWinds Partners, which has worked with several major companies that applied to run a new domain name. “New gTLDs that are launched and promoted by major brands, for example, would raise the visibility and credibility of new gTLDs in such a way that would blaze the trail for other gTLDs to become successful as well."
Some U.S. lawmakers also have voiced concern that if ICANN stumbles in the rollout of the new domain-name program, it will provide ammunition to those countries that have been pushing for the United Nations or some other international group to take over ICANN’s functions and other Internet-governance matters.
“It’s a major test for ICANN to do this in a responsible way that does not open themselves up to the claims that they have mismanaged this and therefore someone else, particularly the United Nations or some other international body, coming and saying were going to take over responsibility for regulation of this critical element of the Internet,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee, said during an appearance last week on C-SPAN’s The Communicators program.
Critics of ICANN’s new domain-name program had been urging Commerce to give ICANN a much shorter extension and to include requirements that would improve ICANN’s transparency and accountability.
Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, said his group was pleased to see that Commerce included new conflict-of-interest requirements for ICANN officials but was disappointed that the agency gave the group a three-year extension, which includes the option to extend the contract for two two-year stints.
“In a time in which such an unprecedented amount of change in the domain-name system [is taking place], it would have made far more sense to have [the contract extension] for a year to allow the Department of Commerce to assess whether ICANN” is living up to its commitments, Jaffe said.