Full speed ahead for Web domain name expansion, despite FTC warning

Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), brushed off criticism of his group's plan to allow for new Web domain endings in an interview with The Hill on Wednesday.

"In the next four hours, we're not going to go translate some concept from one special interest trade association into a global policy for the Internet," Beckstrom said, referring to a list of proposed changes from the Association of National Advertisers. "We think that would be imprudent."

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ICANN is a California-based nonprofit group that manages the Internet’s address system. On Wednesday evening, the group will begin accepting applications for new Web addresses ending in almost any word or phrase, such as ".sport" or ".food," instead of just traditional endings such as ".com" or ".org."

The first new address endings, known as generic top-level domains, will roll out in about a year.

Beckstrom said the change will allow for more consumer choice and competition. He emphasized that the plan will allow for more international domains in non-English languages.

"It will help contribute to a globally unified Internet," he said.

He said accepting any new top-level domains that meet the criteria will ensure that ICANN does not have to pick winners and losers.

But an array of advertisers, businesses and nonprofits are worried the plan could force them to defensively buy up domains related to their brand.

The Federal Trade Commission warned ICANN in a letter last month that the plan could pose a "significant threat to consumers." The commission worried that under the plan, “ABC Bank” could have the website “ABC.com,” but a scammer could set up “ABC.bank,” and another scammer could set up “ABC.finance” ad infinitum.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers urged ICANN last month to delay the rollout to address the criticisms.

But Beckstrom emphasized that the domain expansion was the result of six years of careful deliberation. He said ICANN will use tough safeguards to prevent fraud and trademark-infringement.

He said groups will be able to file a complaint against a proposed domain if it is too similar to a trademark they own. For the first time, ICANN will also have the power to reclaim a domain after it has already launched if it infringes a trademark or confuses consumers.

Additionally, groups must prove they actually represent a community if they try to register a domain related to that community. For example, ".bank" would likely go to a banking trade association, Beckstrom said. 

"There's a lot of checks and balances here to try to reduce abuse and address concerns that communities have," Beckstrom said.

He said ICANN takes into account the concerns of business groups and government officials, but he emphasized that the organization does not answer to the U.S. government. 

"We're an international organization, and we report to the world," he said.