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Internet naming group asks FTC to investigate .sucks controversy

Aaron Pressman
Lycos was one of the early search engines along with Yahoo, AltaVista and others in the early days of the Web in the mid-1990s (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)

The group that oversees the Internet's naming and address system on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission to review whether any laws have been broken in the roll out of a new .sucks domain.

Currently, only trademark holders and celebrities may register Internet addresses ending in .sucks at a cost of more than $2,000 per name. Once the early registration period ends, ordinary people will be able to register .sucks names for as little as $10 in June.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit that sets policies for the global domain name system, said in a letter to the FTC and Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs that companies have complained the system is "predatory, exploitive and coercive."

ICANN asked the regulatory bodies to determine whether any laws had been broken. "ICANN is concerned about the contentions of illicit actions being expressed, but notes that ICANN has limited expertise or authority to determine the legality of Vox Populi's positions, which we believe would fall in your respective regulatory regimes," the group said in the letter.

Vox Populi Registry Inc, a Canadian firm, was awarded a contract last year to run the .sucks domain and established the pricing policy. "I don't think that anyone who takes a look will find a problem," Vox CEO John Berard said. "After all, the VoxPop sunrise price is well below the highest cost charged by at least one other registry and the price itself is somewhat misunderstood; most .sucks registrations seem to be taking place at $2,024."

Big companies and celebrities have been up in arms about the rollout of new Internet address names ending in .sucks since the idea first surfaced. But despite the protests, top companies such as Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT) and Home Depot (HD) along with celebrities like Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey have been registering .sucks domains in the pre-registration period.

The moves, though spendy, prevent anyone else from controlling the website names when public registration for .sucks names opens in June.

Consumer advocates supported the new domain name space as an opportunity for people to voice their complaints about businesses and, they hoped, get quicker responses.

The new .sucks Internet address is one of the most controversial among hundreds of new suffixes approved by ICANN. The group established a procedure for adding new suffixes in 2011 and has been slowly working its way through almost 2,000 initial applications. So far, it has approved almost 600, with new additions released daily.

The new suffixes are intended to unleash a barrage of creative energy, and perhaps a few marketing dollars, by breaking free of the crowded .com space. Over 100 million names have already been taken in .com, including almost every word in the dictionary. Most of the new additions are uncontroversial and inoffensive, such as .cafe, .gold and .tennis.

Vox Populi charges Internet registrars a wholesale price of $2,000 for .sucks names during the early preregistration period, with a recommended retail price of $2,500. Once general registration opens, the .sucks names will cost $250 for consumers. There's also a limited $10-a-year option if a consumer agrees to make the site part of Vox Populi's discussion network.