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Commerce Dept Questions New Domain Plan

December 23, 2008

Last week, the movement to create hundreds of new Internet domain names as an alternative to “.com” suffered a setback due to a letter sent by a top Commerce Department official to the Internet’s oversight group.

In a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, Meredith Baker, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said she was unsure “whether the potential consumer benefits outweigh the potential costs.”

The net body planned to offer between 200 and 800 new addresses for sale at $185,000 per domain with a yearly cost of $60,000.

Officials have also raised concerns about whether the plans will destabilize the current system.

There are currently 21 so-called gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains). They include .com, .org, .net and .gov.

In June, ICANN said it intended to add an unlimited number of gTLDs which would help lower costs and allow for a more open system.

NTIA said ICANN needs to examine whether companies operating the new domain name registries would have too much market power, including the power to raise domain name prices, and whether there should be more competition in the renewal of domain names.

Addressing concerns that ICANN could censor some controversial domain names, the NTIA letter also directs the organization to focus on technical functions related to the managing the Internet addressing system and “not on matters more appropriately addressed by governments, such as adjudication of morality, public order and community objections.”

Although the U.S. cannot technically dictate ICANN policy, it has significant sway over the organization since ICANN handles administration of the domain name system under a contract with the U.S. government. As a result, ICANN cannot add any new domain names without U.S. approval.

It’s unclear, though, whether the NTIA’s criticisms would derail ICANN’s plan given the upcoming change in administration, said Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor who is a member of a group representing universities and other non-commercial domain name users.

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