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New Internet Names Feared, Loathed By All

Jeff Roberts

In an unusual alliance, major corporations are walking in lockstep with the federal government and international NGO’s to stop a reviled internet naming scheme set to be unleashed in January. Too bad they’re probably too late.

The scheme in question involves turning the current internet naming system wide-open so that it’s possible to buy websites ending in anything—.disney, .redcross, .stevejobs, etc—and host content on them. ICANN, the body responsible for internet names, says the plan will unleash a flood of new innovation and internet commerce.

The problem is that no one wants or likes the plan. Brand owners are fed up with the digital debris they must manage already (including “.biz”, “.travel” and now “.xxx” sites) and don’t want more. Meanwhile, government agencies and NGO’s fear that more internet names simply mean more fraud and phishing.

The new scheme is particularly vexing to companies because it’s so expensive. Starting January 12, would-be registrants of “.chanel” or “.worldvision” must plunk down $185,000 to register the names or risk someone else grabbing them first.

“Companies are nervous,” said Andrea Calvaruso, a trademark expert with Kelley Drye in New York. She says that she has several big clients who are incredulous and resentful at having to acquire yet more domain names but feel they are over a barrel. The cost of running an entire domain system involves not just registration but legal and IT services, Calvaruso adds. Unless a brand is already an IT firm, she says they will have to pay a specialist firm to help them manage the ten year commitment.

An organization called Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight is pushing back against the initiative and has formed an international alliance of marketers and brands such as Dell, Xerox and Coca-Cola. Its website includes a letter from the lawyers of dozens of quasi-government groups like the WHO and the European Space Agency. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission on Friday issued a press release warning Americans that the new internet names will produce new scams.

So why is the plan going ahead all the same? In a word, money. In a recent report, ICANN revealed that the new plan will produce a windfall that will allow it to double its revenue.

Ordinarily, this sort of agency mission creep would be reigned in by political outrage. But that’s unlikely to occur here because ICANN has no real political master now that it has escaped formal oversight from the US Department of Commerce. The decoupling of ICANN from the US government occurred for the good reason that the internet and its naming system are a global, not American, enterprise. But the result is now that an important agency is accountable to no-one at all.

The only support for the scheme that I have uncovered came in the form of a strange press release chiding the US Senate for examining the scheme (no Senator came out in support). It also provides a link to a consultant and the advice: “The bottom line, the New gTLD expansion will happen and instead of concerning yourself with what you can’t control – you should be focusing on how to prepare for what is to come.  “

Sounds good. I wonder if it’s too late to buy the “.bureaucracy” name.

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