Top-level domain selections flawed, critics charge

By Carolyn Duffy Marsan, Network World |  Business

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers came under attack during a congressional hearing Thursday for allegedly using an arbitrary, subjective and otherwise flawed process when it selected seven new top-level domains last November.

Members of the House telecommunications subcommittee asked tough questions about why ICANN failed to use objective and quantitative measurements when it selected seven new top-level domains from a field of 44 proposals. Republican and Democratic members recommended that ICANN develop a fairer and more open process before it selects additional top-level domains.

At the hearing's conclusion, it remained unclear whether the subcommittee would try to reverse ICANN's decision or require ICANN to justify or expand its selections before they are approved by the Department of Commerce. ICANN is a nonprofit organization that oversees the Internet's name and addressing system through a contract with the Commerce Department.

"Our goal here is to make sure that this is a fair and open process in every way, particularly for those that have qualified applications, so that they may, in fact, succeed," says Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the subcommittee. "I think there is room for improvement as this process continues."

ICANN's board of directors in November selected seven new top-level domains for the Internet: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro. ICANN's stated goal was to select a limited number of new top-level domains to test the impact on the stability of the Internet of introducing new domains. The new domains were designed to generate competition for the popular .com domain and to make new and specialized domain names available to companies and individuals.

ICANN's board selected the new top-level domains during a 7-hour meeting that was broadcast live over the Internet. Altogether, ICANN received 44 valid proposals, each of which was accompanied by a $50,000 application fee. ICANN's staff spent six weeks evaluating the proposals before the board made its selections. ICANN's staff is currently in negotiations with the seven organizations that were chosen.

The House telecommunications subcommittee called today's hearing after several companies whose proposals were rejected complained that the selection process was flawed.

The witnesses at the hearing included representatives of two organizations -- dotTV of Los Angeles and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) of Geneva -- whose proposals were rejected. Two other witnesses were from register.com and NeuStar, whose proposals were accepted. Rounding out the witness list were ICANN Chairman and Internet inventor Vint Cerf, Internet law expert Michael Froomkin, Alan Davidson from the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Internet entrepreneur Leah Gallegos.

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