Senate Implores ICANN to Slow Its Roll but Admits It Can't Do Anything to Stop It

Former ICANN Chair Calls Domain-Name Plan a 'Tax' on the Internet

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A little more than a month before ICANN plans to field applications for as many as 1,000 new top-level domains, the organization's senior VP spent about an hour today listening as the program was portrayed as everything from a tax on the internet to a threat to businesses to an unnecessary headache for law enforcement officials. But ultimately, the opponents gathered at a Senate hearing can do little to stop the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers from moving ahead.

The upshot of the proceedings may best be captured by an exchange between Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, and ICANN Senior VP-Stakeholder Relations Kurt Pritz during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

"I'm hopeful you will listen to these concerns," said Ms. Klobuchar. "Will you listen to these concerns as we go forward?"

"I certainly will," Mr. Pritz replied.

An ICANN representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the application period will begin on Jan. 12, as planned. There was no signal from Mr. Pritz during the hearing that it would not.

Some of the most negative testimony came from Esther Dyson, the former chairman of ICANN's board. who likened the new TLDs to financial derivatives that "create opportunities for entrepreneurs but don't really create any value for the economy." She added: "This really is a tax on the internet. Creating a whole new set of redundant names isn't useful."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the state's former attorney general, was most concerned with what the expansion would mean for efforts to curb internet crime. Mr. Pritz said ICANN is talking with registrars about adopting new recommendations from law enforcement agencies, and Ms. Ayotte questioned why ICANN was sticking to a January launch when negotiations were ongoing.

"That is really going to be a challenge [for law enforcement] when you go from 22 [TLDs] to, who knows, 1,000," Ms. Ayotte said. "That, in and of itself, will be a huge challenge."

Several senators implored Mr. Pritz to take their concerns to heart and proceed with caution. Still, the lawmakers recognize that their power is negligible in the case. It's interesting to note that ICANN came into being out of a request by the Department of Commerce for an organization to privatize management of the domain-name system.

Dan Jaffe, exec VP-government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, continued to push for ICANN to delay the launch. "There is not a consensus," Mr. Jaffe said. "There is nothing sacrosanct about this Jan. 12 date." The ANA claims that creating hundreds of new generic TLDs will burden businesses of all sizes, forcing them to defensively purchase numerous domains with different iterations of their brand names. The organization, which has formed the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight to oppose the rollout, also asserts that the program will spur more cybersquatting and other online malfeasance.

The committee also heard from Angela Williams, general counsel for the YMCA of the USA, who said her not-for-profit lacks the funds for such defensive registration of countless names. The YMCA has already reserved the new, she said, "but we can't afford to keep trying to do this to protect our brand."

Mr. Pritz said that studies indicate that corporations and other parties will not need to defensively register as many domains as they think, because many of the new TLDs will not be large enough to attract cybersquatters and "typosquatters." He also pointed to trademark protections built into the expansion strategy. But his reassurances did not seem to move the opponents.

"This is an economic creation," said Ms. Dyson, contrasting the new program with how companies like Twitter and Amazon built value into top-level domains. "What I would like to see is real innovation. ... For that , you don't need a new TLD."

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