Editorial: Slow&Steady.com

ICANN's planned expansion of gTLD's could result in a land rush of cybersquatting, phishing and fraud for, as far as we and others can tell, not a lot of upside

Put Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on the same page with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the Association of National Advertisers, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Red Cross and the Federal Trade Commission and what do you get?

Usually a veritable smorgasbord of vastly different takes on issues, media and otherwise, from online privacy to network neutrality to kids TV regulations to, well, you name it. That is why it borders on remarkable that they are all essentially in agreement when it comes to pausing or scaling back the Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) planned expansion of general top-level domain names (gTLDs), which are the .com and .net and .TV extensions currently atop the Internet food chain.

Then again, perhaps it’s not so remarkable after all, given that the Jan. 12 trigger for that massive expansion— from 22 now to as many as 300, for starters— could result in a land rush of cybersquatting, phishing and fraud for, as far as we and others can tell, not a lot of upside.

Dan Jaffee, executive VP of the Association of National Advertisers and the lead executive representing the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO) calls the expansion “dangerous and misguided” and a threat to the $700 billion in marketing spending from the 152 companies in CRIDO. That list includes major advertisers, as well as ad associations and the National Association of Broadcasters. Jaffee may be overstating the case, but there is a clear threat.

And we don’t buy the argument that delaying the rollout will somehow send a signal to other countries that it is OK for them to crack down on the free flow of information on the Internet. If that were the case, we doubt that strong net neutrality backers like Markey, Rockefeller and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) would be among the rollout’s critics.

Among the possible consequences of the expansion are diluting the value of current domain names, costing companies millions to defend their brands and creating myriad new opportunities to scam Web users or steal their personal info via bogus sites mimicking established brands.

But don’t take our word for it; sit back and listen to the ICANN (But You Shouldn’t) Chorus:

House Energy & Commerce Chair Fred Upton and committee member Ed Markey: “We urge you to delay the planned Jan. 12 for the acceptance of applications for new gTLDs.”

Senate Commerce Committee chair Jay Rockefeller: “I’m concerned that this expansion of generic, top-level domains, if it proceeds as planned, will have adverse consequences for the millions of American consumers, companies and non-profit organizations that use the Internet on a daily basis.”

Federal Trade Commission letter to ICANN: “A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters.”

Angela Williams, general counsel, YMCA, representing a nonprofit coalition that includes the Red Cross and Goodwill Industries: “The new gTLD Program compromises use of the Internet by increasing the risk of fraud, cybersquatting and trademark infringement and by significantly escalating the cost to protect against such unlawful activities.”

We think ratcheting back to a pilot program, as the FTC suggested, which gives ICANN a better handle on the real-world consequences of the expansion would be the best thing for the Internet, for Internet users and for companies with billiondollar brands increasingly reliant on their Web addresses to get folks in the door.