US gov't official: ICANN gTLD plan should move forward

Calls for the US government to delay the program could lead to other countries seeking control of the Internet, Lawrence Strickling says

Calls for the U.S. government to halt a plan by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to offer new generic top-level domains are shortsighted because they could lead to other countries attempting to exert control over ICANN, a U.S. government official said Wednesday.

ICANN's plan to begin accepting applications for new gTLDs at 7 p.m. Wednesday EST should move forward, even though there are major concerns about the gTLD plan, said Lawrence Strickling, administrator at the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Despite the concerns, ICANN went through years of debate with Internet users and businesses before approving the gTLD program, Strickling said during a discussion about Internet governance at the Brookings Institution. Opponents "seeking unilateral action" from the U.S. government to delay the gTLD plan could prompt a new debate about control of ICANN, he said.

Many trademark owners have objected to the plan, which could lead to hundreds of new gTLDs, in addition to current TLDs like .com, .org and .uk. Many trademark owners have said they will have to spend significant money to defensively register domain names in the new TLDs.

Strickling acknowledged those concerns, but said critics should separate the concerns from the extensive process ICANN used to approve the plan.

"We cannot view this episode with ICANN in a vacuum," he said. "Each challenge to [ICANN's] multistakeholder model has implications for Internet governance throughout the world. When parties ask us to overturn the outcomes of these processes, no matter how well intentioned the request, they are providing ammunition to other countries who would like to see governments take control of the 'Net."

Last month, some members of Congress and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO), an advocacy group, called on the NTIA's parent agency, the U.S. Department of Commerce, to pressure ICANN to delay the gTLD rollout. In a Dec. 16 letter, U.S. Representatives Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, and Howard Berman, a California Democrat, urged the agency to "take steps necessary" to delay the new gTLDs.

"Businesses will be forced to engage in a widespread brand monitoring and registrations of subdomains made up of businesses' trademarks -- and misspellings of those trademarks -- within each new top level domain," Goodlatte and Berman wrote. "Many of these costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices."

There's "no question" that there are continued concerns about the new gTLDs, including trademark fears, Strickling said. He sent a letter to ICANN on Jan. 3 asking the organization to look into new protections for trademark owners.

But he declined to "demand that ICANN abandon its multistakeholder processes to deal with these concerns," he said.

Also on Wednesday, ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom and board Chairman Stephen Crocker defended the gTLD program during a press conference in Washington, D.C. Beckstrom, who's appeared at a series of meetings in Washington this week, said the plan will bring significant benefits to the Internet including the ability to create gTLDs in non-Latin, non-English characters.

ICANN is rolling out several programs intended to protect trademarks. The organization will publish a list of applicants and proposed gTLDs after the application period closes in April, and the proposed gTLDs will be open for public comment. Trademark owners will have seven months to challenge gTLD applications, he said.

"Why, in the wake of intense criticism, are we moving ahead?" he said. "Because we believe this program will do what it's designed to do, which is open up the Internet domain-name system to further innovation."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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