U.S. Loosens Grip On ICANN, Domain Chaos To Follow?

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The U.S. has relaxed its grip on the Internet, thanks to a new agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Widely hailed as an internationalization of Internet governance, the move could also make it more likely consumers will see a huge increase in Global Top-Level Domains (gTLDs).

Until now, ICANN has largely been a creature of the U.S. Department of Commerce and has sometimes been criticized as a result. The new agreement between ICANN and the U.S. creates a new international management scheme, under which the U.S. has only a single seat at the negotiating table.

ICANN controls the international domain name and IP address structure that gives the Internet its form. It is also the group that decides which gTLDs, such as .com, .net, and .org can be used.

While ICANN does other important things, gTLD issues are where it often makes news that directly affects Internet users. The group has been involved in discussions over whether to create an .xxx gTLD for adult sites (it refused) and is under constant pressure to create others.

Some businesses fear an ICANN proposal that could result in the creation of an unlimited number new gTLDs--things like .football, .sailing, and .softdrink. The additional new gTDs might require companies to purchase large numbers of new domain names to protect their trademarks.

This could represent a considerable expense for business and create a new and continuing game of cat-and-mouse between trademark owners and infringers.

U.S. lawmakers have questioned the value of new gTLDs and urged ICANN not to allow their creation. The new agreement between ICANN and the U.S. specifically mentions the issue.

"Nothing in this document is an expression of support by [the Department of Commerce] of any specific plan or proposal for the implementation of new generic top level domain names or is an expression by DOC of a view that the potential consumer benefits of new gTLDs outweigh the potential costs," the new agreement said.

My take: It is easy to take a "we invented it and its ours" attitude toward the Internet, but this is shortsighted. Nevertheless, if ICANN unleashes a flood of new gTLDs, businesses worldwide might wish the U.S. had remained more involved.

David Coursey tweets as @techincter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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