ICANN domain name process under fire

The process used the by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to select seven new generic top-level domain (TLD) names came under fire in a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday, as members of U.S. Congress from both parties questioned whether the process was fair.

ICANN has been criticized from several angles since November when it selected the new TLDs – .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro, but the hearing was the first opportunity for Congress to express its concern about the procedures used.

The new chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, said he called the hearing because questions had been raised about whether the process thwarted competition and was too subjective.

“To my mind legitimate questions have been raised by several of our witnesses about the standards of the application and selection process, questions which must in fact be answered by ICANN,” Upton said as he opened the hearing. Other questions involved the omission of .kids and .xxx as new TLDs to help protect children from “the awful filth that is spread” over the Internet, Upton said.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said he was concerned about the procedure, saying it was more shrouded in mystery than events at the Vatican. He also expressed concern over ICANN’s decision not to select all technically and financially qualified applicants. In addition, Markey said although some of the people who made the decisions were elected, others were not, and he asked whether the US$50,000 nonrefundable application fee that ICANN charged was spent entirely on analyzing applications.

Eight witnesses testified, including two companies whose TLDs applications were denied, two whose applications were accepted and one that didn’t apply. Defending ICANN was Vinton Cerf, chairman of the board of ICANN.

Cerf said the procedure was a limited proof of concept process and from the beginning ICANN made it known that only a limited number of new TLDs would be selected.

“Everything about this process was transparent,” Cerf told the subcommittee. “What ICANN was doing here was an experiment, a proof of concept, an attempt to find a limited number of appropriate applicants to test what happens when new TLDs of various kinds are added to the namespace today — a namespace that is vastly different in size and in application than that which existed more than 15 years ago when the first seven global TLDs … were created.”

All the proposals were posted at ICANN’s Web site and more than 4,000 public comments were received and reviewed by ICANN staff, he said. ICANN also held open meetings where people were allowed to testify.

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