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Lawmakers urge ICANN to delay new top-level domains

ICANN

Several members of the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce have asked the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to delay the planned rollout of new top-level domain policies scheduled for January 12, 2012 (PDF). Although the letter doesn’t spell out specific reasons, the representatives asking for a “short delay” to work out “significant uncertainty” about the new top-level domains process for consumers and non-profits, as well as businesses.

Adopted last summer, ICANN’s adopted a new policy for top-level domains, or gTLDS, for Generic Top Level Domains. Currently, there are only a couple dozen gTLDs—things like .com, .org—alongside a few hundred country codes like .jp that aren’t “generic.” In theory, the new wide-open gTLD application process enables virtually any term or name to be registered as a top-level domain, subject to three criteria: applicants have to establish a legitimate claim to the term to be used as a gTLD, they must be an “established public or private organization,” and most groups would have to fork over $185,000 to get the top-level domain approved. The application process is scheduled to launch next month.

Although the new gTLD plan will no doubt do a great deal to increase competition amongst registrars and site operators, the plan has also drawn criticism from major businesses and non-profits concerned about protecting their established brands—after all, it could be a marketing disaster if an organization besides The Coca-Cola Company were to be the first to register .coke—and for companies and organizations that have hundreds (or thousands) of brands and trademarks, protecting their online identities under the new system could be prohibitively expensive—especially once the inevitable lawsuits get started. Business, schools, and non-profits have already had to register their names and trademarks in other top-level domains (like .xxx)—even if they have no intention of using them—just to prevent abuse, scams, and fraud from being carried out using their name.

ICANN is implementing a rapid review process that including taking down infringing gTLDs, enables trademark holders to protect their marks without buying the corresponding gTLDs themselves, along with new dispute resolution procedures and applicant checks that ICANN hopes will weed out fraudstars and cybersquatters. ICANN also plans to prohibit registration of new gTLDs using provocative social or religious terms.

However, the lawmakers signing the letter to ICANN cite organizations like Goodwill Industries, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the Council of Better Business Bureaus support a delay, and have “suggested changes” that could alleviate their concerns.