ICANN Chief Tackles Controversial Changes to the Internet

ICANN, the nonprofit that oversees Net addresses, approved the introduction in 2009 of an unlimited number of new suffixes, a move that is now being questioned by the U.S. government and some trademark holders. ICANN President Paul Twomey talked with Informilo at the World Economic Forum in Davos  about the proposed sweeping changes to the Internet’s addressing system and ICANN’s efforts to reassure governments and businesses. Click “read more” to see the story and the video.

The number and type of top-level domains has been tightly controlled since the Internet was formed.  But, in a unanimous vote on June 26, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN), a private, nonprofit company that oversees technical aspects of the Internet’s address system, agreed to introduce an unlimited number of new top-level domains, the term for the suffixes such as .com or .net tacked on to the ends of Internet addresses. The suffixes are used for routing traffic through the Net. The number of top-level domains was severely restricted in the past for security reasons and because of concern that an infinite number of domains would pose technical difficulties.

The proposed change opens up a whole range of possibilities. Companies such as IBM could give employees email addresses that ended in the company’s name, such as John.Smith@IBM. Geographic locations could also become Internet destinations. Business sectors are expected to apply for names  and a list of generic names is likely to make a debut, such as .blog, .web, .love, and .hate.  That is not all, individuals, businesses, and countries will be able to apply for addresses in different alphabets.

If all goes as planned applications for both generic and country top-level domains will be accepted beginning in April and May. They are likely to go into effect by late 2009. ICANN has developed four basic rules to prevent abuse. Applications can be blocked if a name has already been trademarked by someone else, if a name is confusingly similar to an existing one, is contrary to public order, or goes against the wishes of the economic or social group it purports to represent.

But, the U.S. government expressed concern in a Dec. 18 letter to ICANN about whether those safeguards will be enough. “While we acknowledge the effort and hard work involved in producing the documents currently  out for comment, it is unclear… whether the potential consumer benefits outweigh the potential costs,” says the letter, which was written by Meredith A. Baker, Acting Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information.

The introduction of new top level  domains could make managing trademarks in domain names  more difficult and more expensive for companies because it would require  them to register all variations of brand names in all top level domains, according to some. And, argues the U.S. government, the change is unlikely to do much to diminish the power of the .com suffix.

Supporters of the proposed change argue that it opens up a whole range of new commercial applications. They say the risks are being blown out of proportion because a minimum charge for applying for a generic top-level domain name such as .web or .blog will cost “in the low six figures,” most likely around $100,000,  a price tag that should help curb wide-spread cybersquatting.

Click on the video to hear Twomey talk about how ICANN is tackling the controversy and the internationalization of ICANN’s management.

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