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ICANN’s Efforts to Increase Available Domain Suffixes Meet Opposition

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Domain names by ivanpw on Flickr

Image by ivanpw on Flickr

Will we soon have domain suffixes beyond the usual suspects like .com, .org, and .biz to choose from? If the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has its way, yes—but right now the House Judiciary’s Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee isn’t convinced this is a good direction to pursue.

ICANN is proposing to allow the introduction of perhaps thousands of new suffixes that would be available for registration; the organization claims these would provide more opportunities for creativity and choice among consumers. While at first blush, creativity and choice may seem like good things, the Subcommittee looked at it from a slightly different angle—namely from the perspective of someone registering a new domain name. With the possibility that a new domain name could have thousands of different suffixes attached, a consumer may feel constrained to register a vast number of suffixes in addition to the main one just to protect the other, similar domains from cybersquatters or other attempts to profit from the original domain owner’s trademark.

In one related and particularly bold proposal, ICANN has suggested providing individuals and businesses the opportunity to purchase a “gTLD” (generic top level domain) with their brand after the “dot” such as “.yourbrand.” This proposal brings up interesting questions, including these by Ian Shapira at The Washington Post:

Who gets to run .abortion Web sites – people who support abortion rights or those who don’t? Which individual or mosque can run the .islam or .muhammad sites? Can the Ku Klux Klan own .nazi on free speech grounds, or will a Jewish organization run the domain and permit only educational Web sites – say, remember.nazi or antidefamation.nazi? And who’s going to get .amazon – the Internet retailer or Brazil?

And the .yourbrand suffix won’t come cheap: to register your own name or brand as the suffix itself would cost $185,000 to apply and an annual renewal fee of $25,000.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. wondered out loud who would benefit from all these additional registrations; Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. and others estimated that ICANN could see tens of millions of dollars in revenue from the program.

At this point, there is clear bipartisan opposition to moving forward with the ICANN proposal despite assurances from Kurt Pritz, senior VP of stakeholder relations at ICANN, that the group is prepared to provide as many safeguards as possible. Still, several Subcommittee members urged holding up the plan until the costs and benefits can be more accurately weighed. At the time of this writing, ICANN has released (lengthy and prolix) draft materials regarding the program, but notably absent is an estimated start date for the program—this is most likely the result of lengthier discussion and more robust debate than previously contemplated by ICANN.  When contacted, ICANN representatives refused to comment on any projected timeframe for the program.

Do you think there should be more suffixes available for domain registration? Would you welcome the choice or dread having to think about all the other domain suffixes out there? Would you be interested in a .yourbrand domain suffix, or is this just a money-grab by ICANN and a disadvantage to all those unwilling or unable to pony up $185,000? Let us know your thoughts!

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May 5th, 2011 at 12:33 pm