Commerce Dept. Treads Lightly in Dispute Over Rollout of Top-Level Domains

Icann likely to charge ahead with TLD plan

The Commerce Department this week waded into the growing controversy over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' plan to unleash hundreds of new top-level domains on the Internet. But for those that have warned that Icann's plan could have severe unintended consequences for businesses and consumers, Commerce's letter to Icann may barely cause a ripple.

In a Jan. 3 letter to Stephen Crocker, Icann's chairman of the board of directors, Commerce tries to nudge Icann to make changes to the TLD plan, but stops short of giving any sort of deadline or suggestion that Icann slow down its plan to accept applications for TLDs beginning Jan. 12.

Larry Strickling, the Commerce's assistant secretary for communications and information, treaded lightly in his letter. "We do not seek to interfere with the decisions and compromises reached [by Icann]," Strickling wrote, reiterating the department's support for the "multistakeholder Internet governance" model.

Strickling offered several suggestions to Icann for improving its plan, including finding a way to minimize companies' perceived need for defensive registrations, implementing commitments for law enforcement and consumer protections and better educating stakeholders.

Pressure has been mounting on the Commerce Department to step in and use its influence and position with Icann. More than 160 advertisers, global brand owners, lawmakers and many public intergovernmental organizations, including the Federal Trade Commission, have charged that Icann's plan could not only be a financial burden to brand owners, but also would threaten cyber security.

Despite a dressing down in hearings before the House and Senate Commerce Committees and letters, Icann has shown no inclination to alter or slow down its TLD plan.

Icann seemed emboldened by the Commerce Department letter. "We appreciate Assistant Secretary Strickling's comments and suggestions. We also appreciate the fact that he recognizes that many of the recent concerns expressed about the new top-level domain program are more about 'perceived' problems than actual deficiencies in the new TLD program," said Crocker in an emailed statement. "Icann will review all of Mr. Strickling's recommendations and those from all other stakeholders with the intent of making this program truly beneficial to the global Internet community."

The Commerce's letter and Icann's correspondence leave the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight with little choice but to keep making their case that Icann is on the wrong track. "We'll continue to push forward and talk to our legislators," said Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers. "We still think Icann should listen to this unprecedented outcry. But so far they continue to try and pass off criticisms as merely the complaints of a small group of business organizations. It shows how out of touch Icann is and how unwilling they are to be responsive to their constituents. The approach they have taken is truly reckless for the Internet and the long-term interest of Icann."