Two of the House Judiciary Committee's top Republicans wrote to the new head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers on Tuesday to express concerns about the proposed introduction of many new top-level domains -- such as .biz, .info, and .us -- and the expiration later this month of a memo formally joining the Commerce Department and the California-based entity that administers the world's Web addresses.
In their letter to ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith and Courts and Competition Subcommittee ranking member Howard Coble, R-N.C., said they are worried that a vast expansion of domains will carry "serious negative consequences" for U.S. businesses and consumers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and others have complained that adding hundreds of new domains could exacerbate cyber-squatting, fraud, and overall confusion in the Internet marketplace.
Smith and Coble said the absence of price caps in the new registry deals could mean that legitimate businesses could be discriminated against and asked to pay a premium for each domain they register or renew. ICANN, which has said it plans to begin accepting applications for new domains in early 2010, could bring in an initial $90 million from the plan, according to some estimates. The letter argued the only economic justification put forth so far is an ICANN-commissioned report that has been criticized for failing to include empirical data to support of its claim that the project will benefit consumers.
Given the late consideration of intellectual property concerns and ICANN's "less than stellar track record," Smith and Coble said they have "serious misgivings" about the scheduled expiration later this month of a joint project agreement between the U.S. government and ICANN. ICANN leaders have claimed that, after 10 years in business, the nonprofit is ready for its independence but a number of lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- aren't so sure. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., last month called for the creation of a permanent relationship.
Smith and Coble ask Beckstrom to provide detailed answers by Sept. 22 to several questions about the domain name expansion and the termination of the joint project agreement.
Proponents of the domain name expansion take a different view. Richard Tindal, senior vice president of registry at eNom, argues that new domains will be safer space for trademarks. As part of the proposed process, safeguards are being built into the registry selection process and the registry/registrar contracts. Additionally, ICANN is likely to adopt significant portions of the recommendations for trademark protections offered by a committee of trademark experts, he said.
Tindal claims the amount of traffic and cyber-squatting won't increase significantly with new domains and could actually decrease. "There is only so much Internet traffic and so many cyber-squatter dollars available at any given point in time. Doubling the number of [domains] will not double the amount of cyber-squatting," he said. Furthermore, the recent introduction of country code top-level domains and vanity names (e.g. Facebook) demonstrates that once new domains are introduced, "there will be widespread consumer adoption," he predicted.