Washington Puts More Pressure on Icann to Change TLD Plan

FTC warns Icann plan could lead to more Internet fraud

Pressure from Washington is mounting against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' plan to add hundreds of new top-level domain names like "dot bank" or "dot Coke" to the Internet. In a letter to Icann Friday, the Federal Trade Commission reiterated concerns raised by chairman Jon Leibowitz at a recent Senate hearing that the new scheme could increase consumer fraud and make it more difficult for enforcers, such as the FTC, to track down Internet scammers.

The letter, to Icann's board chairman Dr. Stephen Crocker and president and chief executive Rod Beckstrom, follows hearings held in the commerce committees of both the House and Senate where lawmakers repeatedly sent Icann a single message: slow down.

"When one of the most powerful regulators of the Internet says this will be a disaster, it's a very big deal," said Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers, part of the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, which has been lobbying hard against the plan. "It's part of a growing drumbeat from key leaders in every sector. How many people have to speak out before Icann listens?"

As the regulatory body charged with protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices online, the FTC is worried that unleashing hundreds of new TLDs will make its job a lot tougher. "A rapid, exponential expansion of generic TLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters," wrote Leibowitz and the three FTC commissioners.

The FTC reminded Icann that it had raised consumer protection issues for more than a decade and offered specific recommendations urging the organization to implement the new program as a pilot project and substantially reduce the number of TLDs introduced in the first application round, which begins Jan. 12. The FTC also wants Icann to strengthen its contractual compliance program by hiring additional staff, develop a program to monitor consumer issues, conduct an assessment of each new TLD's risk of consumer harm, and improve the accuracy of the Whois database, which identifies website operators.

Icann was not immediately available for comment. At the House hearing this week, Icann's svp Kurt Pritz left no indication that Icann would slow down or make any changes to a plan that had been several years in the making.