ICANN CEO defends new gTLD plan

The gTLD rollout begins this week as planned, despite objections, Beckstrom says

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will open up applications for new generic top-level domains this week, even with continued objections to the plan, the group's CEO said.

As planned, ICANN will begin accepting applications for new gTLDs on Thursday -- late Wednesday in the U.S. -- in a "new era" for the domain-name system, said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's president and CEO. Beckstrom dismissed continued criticisms of the plan, saying opponents have raised no new objections in recent months.

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The gTLD plan will bring significant benefits to Internet users, including the ability to create new TLDs in non-Latin, non-English scripts, Beckstrom said during a speech Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

About half of the Internet's users are in Asia, but they don't have TLDs in their native languages, he said. With the new gTLDS, the Internet is "going to look more like the world, and it's going to look less like one individual country," he said.

Since 2005, ICANN has conducted 45 public comment periods on the plan, Beckstrom said, and the organization has put several protections in place to address concerns by trademark owners who worry that they will have to defensively register many new domain names.

"Many participants feel like they've waited for many years already," Beckstrom said. "There's no new information that's come in the last few months. It's the same arguments, most of which have been heard for up to five or six years."

In December, 17 members of the U.S. Congress called on ICANN to delay the rollout, because of concerns about gTLDs. The same month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission suggested the plan posed "significant risk" to consumers.

The new gTLD plan will allow organizations to apply for new TLDs with longer names than the traditional .com or .uk, such as .hotel or .baseball. The cost of a new gTLD will be US$185,000 for most applicants.

Trademark owners have raised the loudest objections to the plan, saying it will be difficult to protect their intellectual property on hundreds or thousands of new TLDs. Beckstrom said Tuesday he's not sure how many gTLD applications ICANN will get in the three-month application period.

ICANN has put several intellectual property protections in place, he said. ICANN will publish the list of TLD applications in May, and the applications will be open for public comment for 60 days, he said. Trademark owners will have seven months to challenge applications, with the loser of a challenge required to pay the costs.

In addition, ICANN will use a global trademark clearinghouse to weed out applications from groups that don't own trademarks, and it will allow trademark owners to file challenges in a 21-day fast-track review, he said.

Several people at the event questioned the plan. ICANN seems to be "glossing over" criticisms of the plan, said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations at the Association of National Advertisers, a trade group that's been one of the leading opponents of the new gTLDs.

The FTC called the plan a "potential disaster" for businesses and consumers, Jaffe noted. He asked how ICANN would address the continued concerns about the plan.

ICANN will continue to work on several issues, including concerns about the accuracy of the whois domain registration database, Beckstrom said. "ICANN's an open, community-driven process," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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