Monday, December 5, 2011

Senate to Consider Delaying ICANN From Global Expansion of Internet Addresses

At 10:00 am on Thursday, December 8, 2011, the Senate Commerce Committee will conduct a hearing investigating whether to delay implementation of ICANN’s major expansion of global Internet Addresses (Top Level Domains), which is scheduled for January 2012..  Brand owners in the insurance and energy industries and in most other industry sectors have long feared that the planned expansion may confuse consumers, increase the already unacceptable level of fraud and identity theft on the Internet, create new opportunities for Internet crime, and jeopardize cybersecurity.  Consumer groups, government cybersecurity agencies, and law enforcement share these concerns.  Entities who wish to make their views known to the Senate Committee can file written comments with the committee by December 6 to be considered by its policy staff. If delivered to a Senator is a member of the Committee before the hearing, written comments can be entered into the record by the Senator to be considered after the hearing.  Private interviews with committee policy staff members are also available.
The Committee Hearing
The Committee notice indicates that the hearing will examine the merits and implications of this new program and assess ICANN’s efforts to address concerns raised by the Internet community. The hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website 
Many were surprised that the Committee set this hearing on the eve of ICANN’s implementation of the expansion of Top Level Domains since there had already been a lengthy period for submission of comments on the plan. Until now, Congress and other federal government entities have shown little interest in examining the implications of ICANN’s planned expansion.
CRIDO’s Letter to Commerce Department Sparks Hearing
The hearing was sparked by the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO)— consortium of a bevy of big-name companies, trade associations and organizations—which wrote requesting postponement of the expansion.  .
CRIDO’s letter complained that ICANN pushed the planned expansion forward despite widespread and significant objections raised by many in the global community of Internet users. CRIDO has stated that ICANN’s decision is not in the public interest, does not promote consumer trust, and does not benefit the public, as required in a September 30, 2009 Agreement between the U.S. Government (though the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) and ICANN. 
Specifically, the Coalition claims that ICANN plan would unduly burden public and private brand holders, who would be forced to spend ever-greater amounts of time and resources for brand protection.  In addition, the Coalition warns of an unacceptably high risk that the ICANN plan would confuse consumers, increase the already unacceptable level of fraud and identity theft on the Internet, create new opportunities for Internet crime, and jeopardize cyber security.  The Coalition also posits that the current state of the global economy raises substantial issues regarding the wisdom of moving forward with ICANN’s plan, given its undisputed costs and its merely claimed benefits. 
The Coalition urged postponement of the opening of the top-level domain application window until ICANN adequately addressed these concerns.

The scheduled hearing gives brand owners who act promptly another opportunity  to persuade ICANN to delay the planned expansion until it adequately addresses all these shared concerns.  Congress unquestionably can assert practical, leverage over ICANN to more adequately address these issues prior to expansion.  What is unclear at this time is whether Congress and other government agencies will use this leverage.

Author:  Paul Van Slyke