US businesses concerned about ICANN changes

With agreement between ICANN and United States ending this year, organization could be vulnerable to outside takeover by other governments

Some Internet-based businesses in the United States would support the splitting of the domain-name governance system instead of allowing an agreement between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the U.S. government to end later this year, the leader of a U.S. trade association said Wednesday.

When a 10-year-old agreement between ICANN and the U.S. Department of Commerce expires in September, the organization will be vulnerable to outside takeover by other governments, said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a trade group of online companies.

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With other countries calling on ICANN to become more international, DelBianco suggested that the organization's traditional role be split up, with ICANN retaining responsibility for overseeing generic top-level domains (TLDs) like ".com" and ".org" and a new organization overseeing country-code TLDs like ".uk" and ".br."

Paul Levins, executive officer and vice president for corporate affairs at ICANN, and Everton Lucero, head of the Science and Technology Division of Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both said splitting up ICANN's responsibilities would be a bad idea. Two DNS groups could bring confusion and cause the Internet to work improperly, Lucero said during a panel discussion at the State of the 'Net conference in Washington, D.C.

"We should try to avoid splitting the DNS," Lucero said.

Lucero called for ICANN to become more international. The longtime agreement with the U.S. government raises concerns in other countries that the United States has inappropriate control of ICANN and the DNS, he said. Even after the joint project agreement with the U.S. Commerce Department expires this year, ICANN's headquarters will remain in California, and the organization will be subject to U.S. laws, he added.

But DelBianco and Jeff Bruggeman, vice president of regulatory planning and policy at AT&T, suggested that U.S. control may be better than alternatives. "Will the U.S. government role be replaced by some different government role?" Bruggeman asked. "It's in all of our interests to make the Internet work as well as possible."

Levins played down the end of the agreement with the U.S. government, saying U.S. officials would continue to be involved in ICANN. And ICANN will continue to work on the goals laid out in the agreement, including security of root servers and providing transparency and accountability, he said.

No other government will take over ICANN, he added. "We're not seeking independence," he said. "We are already independent. We're not concluding any relationship."

Audience members also questioned ICANN's proposal last year to allow the sale of new generic TLDs, such as ".john" or ".dog," for about $185,000. Large companies like eBay may end up having to buy thousands of new Web domains to protect their brands, DelBianco said.

Philip Corwin, counsel to the Internet Commerce Association, suggested ICANN slow down its timeline, with a second comment period starting shortly, after ICANN received more than 300 comments in a first comment round. ICANN's working timeline has the organization receiving applicants for new TLDs in the second half of the year.

Several groups have raised concerns about the new TLD proposal, with a major concern being the cost to business to register new Web sites on several new TLDs.

"Isn't it more important to do this right than to do this quickly?" Corwin asked.

Levins said ICANN will consider all the concerns brought up in the first comment period, although he wouldn't commit to changing the timeline. "You're right; it's important to get this right," he said.

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