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FTC's Leibowitz Criticizes Plan to Add Top-Level Domains

Ad lobby fight against TLDs gains ally
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The advertising industry's fight to halt or at the very least slow down the new plan for adding hundreds of domain names to the Internet is gaining traction. In an appearance before a House Judiciary subcommittee, Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ decision to begin accepting new top-level domains (TLDs) like .bank or .coke "a potential disaster" for consumers and businesses.

Leibowitz said his concern was the effect the addition of hundreds of new TLDs might have on the agency's ability to fight Internet fraud.

"We worry that if Icann goes broadly and doesn't ensure accuracy, it's going to be exponentially worse. There is going to be a burden on businesses, which will have to defensively register. We see a lot of cost, but not a lot of benefit," he said. Leibowitz told the subcommittee the FTC has been in talks with the Commerce Department, which manages a contract that Icann needs to operate. The FTC also plans to speak with Icann.

Leibowitz's comments were music to the ears of the advertising lobby, which will get to make its case on Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee, which will also hear from representatives of Icann and Commerce. Advertisers are worried the new system would not only cost them money to defend their brands on the Internet, but also confuse consumers and increase opportunities for fraud and cyber crime.
"[Leibowitz's statement] changes the debate substantially. What has happened is that an independent source in the government has taken the strong position that there would be limited value to [Icann's procedure]," said Dan Jaffe, the Association of National Advertisers executive vice president, who will be one of five witnesses.

The ANA is one of 152 organizations and companies that recently formed the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight to try and leverage the administration in persuading Icann that the plan needs a more thorough review before it goes ahead. 

In addition to the Senate Commerce hearing, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications & Technology has also scheduled a hearing Dec. 14 on Icann's TLD program.

Update:

Responding to Leibowitz's concerns, an ICANN spokesman emailed the following statement. "ICANN has already committed to vigilantly monitor for abuses to the new gTLD program. If and when any program abuses arise, there are mechanisms in place to address them."