December 11, 2010 1:10 am

Icann delays web domain expansion plan

The global body that controls website addresses has put off plans to enable the creation of hundreds of top-level domain names to compete with .com and .net in the wake of objections from the US that the group had not fully examined the economic implications of the move.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers voted at the close of its meeting in Cartagena, Colombia on Friday to seek more information from an advisory committee with representatives of 100 national governments before implementing the plan to allow anyone to apply for a new top-level domain to add to the existing 20-odd generic web suffixes.

The delay by Icann will give at least a temporary reprieve for owners of valuable brands, who fear that they will have to register many more domain names that echo their trademarks to prevent opportunistic “squatters” from registering them first or spend money on legal claims to oust them after the fact.

The new domain names at issue are known as generic top level domains, as opposed to those dedicated to countries, such as .uk for the UK and .cn for China.

An arm of the US Commerce Department, which contracted with Icann for the internet oversight role before the web agency became independent, wrote to Icann last week that the “requisite economic analysis remains, at best, incomplete”. The letter cited Icann’s written pledges, as it ended the contract with the US, for thorough and transparent decision-making.

In an interview, Peter Dengate Thrush, Icann chairman, said the board had not put off the domain-name expansion because of US concerns, but agreed that the former sponsor had raised valid issues.

Icann has commissioned five studies of the economic benefits and costs but has yet to finish reviewing those studies, Mr Thrush said. “What we need to do is analyse what the studies tell us. We need to incorporate the comments” from governments and private industry.

Icann also delayed implementation until a February meeting with the government advisory committee of its agreed plan to create a new top-level domain for the adult entertainment industry .xxx.

Mr Thrush said that estimates of expenses likely to accrue to trademark holders were “speculative” while the gains for sellers of domain names, web hosting services and other internet companies from the creation of new address endings such as .hotel and .model were obvious.

Businesses are expected to apply to Icann and pay large fees for the right to administer the new endings.

Icann is also expanding website addresses beyond Roman characters, giving more weight to the desires of non-western countries.

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