Fight breaks out over ‘.doctor’ websites

A fight is breaking out about who can call themselves a doctor on the Internet.

Domain registry company Donuts is opposing a restriction handed down by the international body overseeing some technical functions of the Internet — known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — that would limit who is able to register a website that ends in “.doctor” instead of .com or .net.

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If ICANN gets its way, only “legitimate medical practitioners” will be able to use the domain name.

But “the term 'doctor' is pretty broad and has a lot of uses,” said Jon Nevett, a co-founder and executive vice president at Donuts, which sells domain names with endings beyond the traditional .coms and .nets. “It could be used by a Pd.D, it could be used by a rug doctor, a computer doctor, a lawn doctor, a veterinarian.”

Donuts is one of three firms that applied for control of .doctor, as part of a massive undertaking by ICANN to create hundreds of new domain extensions for use across the Internet.

This month, Donuts filed a formal petition of reconsideration asking ICANN to change its tune.  

The decision “violates express, long-standing ICANN policy prohibiting discrimination and promoting competition and free expression,” it said in its request, while noting that there are no similar requirements for domains such as .lawyer. 

“This is a test for ICANN to see how effective their current accountability mechanisms are and help those of us working on future accountability mechanisms to see how they do,” Nevett told The Hill.

An ICANN spokesman declined to comment.

Nevett expected a response from ICANN in the next few weeks. If ICANN holds its ground, he said the company would “consider other steps” to get it to reconsider.