The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday that a proposal to allow for an unlimited number of new Internet addresses could be a “disaster” for consumers and businesses.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the California nonprofit that manages the Internet’s domain-name system, is set to begin accepting applications in January for the new domain-name program it approved earlier this year.
The proposal would allow almost any new top-level domain name, which is the suffix that comes to the right of the dot, such as .com or .net. Under the new system, almost any word could go there, from .bank to .apple.
“We are very, very concerned that the rollout of new [domain names] has the potential to be a disaster for consumers and for businesses,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said during a hearing on antitrust issues before the House Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Subcommittee.
“We see enormous costs here to consumers and businesses and not a lot of benefit. So we’re working with consumer-protection agencies around the world who also have concerns,” Leibowitz added.
The subcommittee held a hearing earlier this year on the new domain-name program and the Senate Commerce Committee is set to examine the issue on Thursday. The House Energy and Commerce Committee said on Wednesday that its Communications and Technology panel also will hold a hearing next week on the domain-name plan.
Leibowitz noted that in its work investigating Internet fraud cases, the FTC often finds that scam artists register domain names using fraudulent information, which makes it harder to track them down. He said a major expansion of the domain-name space will make that job even more difficult.
Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said he and other lawmakers have voiced their concerns to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has oversight over ICANN. NTIA is currently weighing whether to extend a technical contract it has with ICANN that is up for renewal in March.
A wide range of companies oppose the new domain-extension plan, worried it will force them to defend trademarks and require them in some cases to apply to run their own domains.
“Many retailers are concerned that they could be forced to spend millions of dollars to register domain extensions in order to keep competitors, unauthorized users or ‘cyber-squatters’ from doing so,” Mallory Duncan, the National Retail Federation’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in a letter on Wednesday to Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
While his group is part of an industry coalition that is seeking to block ICANN’s new domain-name program, Duncan said in an interview that at this late stage that may be difficult to achieve. Instead, he said his group is hoping to slow the process down in order to address some of the concerns his group and others have raised about the proposal.
ICANN “could help everyone by phasing it in,” Duncan said.
ICANN spokesman Brad White said the group appreciates the concerns.
“ICANN has already committed to vigilantly monitor for abuses to the new [domain-name] program. If and when any program abuses arise, there are mechanisms in place to address them,” White said.
NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling said his agency is “sensitive to the concerns being raised by some companies about the introduction of new” domain names. He pledged to monitor the program’s implementation closely and to work with ICANN and other stakeholders to address any “unintended consequences.”