Web-Name Expansion Should Proceed Slowly, Rockefeller Says

The nonprofit organization that manages the Internet’s address system should proceed slowly with a plan to add new top-level domains beyond .com and .org, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers should consider scaling back the initial round of new domains to be introduced in 2013, Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who leads the Commerce Committee, said today at a hearing on the program.

“If Icann is determined to move forward, it should do so slowly and cautiously,” Rockefeller said in prepared remarks. “The potential for fraud, consumer confusion and cybersquatting is massive and argues for a phased-in implementation.”

General Electric Co., Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola Co. are among more than 40 companies that last month joined with the Association of National Advertisers to oppose the domain expansion, saying it will increase costs for companies, confuse customers and create new risks of Internet fraud.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz said yesterday the planned addition of top-level domains may be a “disaster,” allowing con artists to set up fraudulent websites. The FTC, which has no direct authority over Icann, can act when companies engage in deceptive trade practices.

Icann, which manages the Web’s address system under a contract with the U.S. Commerce Department, will start taking applications Jan. 12 for potentially hundreds of new top-level domains such as .apple and .book. The Marina del Ray, California-based group will consider company and brand names, cities and words as potential Web suffixes. Applications will cost $185,000 for each domain.

Trademark Protections

The top-level domain program includes protections for trademark holders and background reviews of applicants, Kurt Pritz, Icann senior vice president of stakeholder relations, said in testimony to the committee. Limiting the number of new domains by some “artificial means” may put Icann in the “awkward position of choosing winners or losers,” Pritz said after the hearing.

Icann, manager of the Internet’s address system since 1998 for the U.S. government, now oversees 22 so-called generic top-level domains, including the commonly used .com, .org and .net.

Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations at the Association of National Advertisers, said there is “nothing sacred” about the January date for beginning the program and told lawmakers the effort should be stopped or delayed.

Given the serious concerns raised by the business community and the potential dangers to consumers, “it would be irresponsible for Icann to proceed full speed ahead with the roll-out next month,” Jaffe said in testimony to the committee.

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