- - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama is doing for the Internet what he did for health care: making things worse. His slogan should be “Change you can deceive in.”

His Internet overhaul includes extortion and shakedowns. Businesses and individuals must buy multiple websites in self-defense against domains like .sucks, which debuts in June. Mr. Obama is adding cost, confusion and cronyism to the Internet, just as Obamacare did for the nation’s health care system. Mr. Obama’s giving away U.S. control of the Internet is a mistake on par with Jimmy Carter’s giving away America’s control of the Panama Canal.

Thanks to the administration’s shift, finding websites will become more complicated. Instead of remembering whether a site ends with .com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov or some other “top-level domain,” users will face over 1,000 extensions.

Many of these are confusing.

Was the ending .fish? Or .fishing? Did you want .florist? Or .flowers? Can’t remember whether the ending is .gift, .gifts or .gives? Was it .market, .markets or .marketing? Is the law office at .lawyer or .attorney? Is the broker at .trade or .trading? And then there are .sex, .sexy, .porn and .xxx.

Plenty more domain names are on the way. The floodgates have been opened by the group Mr. Obama put in charge, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Wall Street Journal tech editor Gordon Crovitz writes, “President Obama’s plan to give up protection of the open Internet is wreaking havoc.” Mr. Crovitz calls ICANN an “abusive monopolist,” an example of more “bungling” by this president.

Mr. Obama gave ICANN the keys to unlock fabulous wealth by creating unlimited extensions. ICANN charges each applicant $185,000. With over 2,000 applicants so far, that provides guaranteed revenue of over $370 million.

Those enormous fees make the new Internet extortion racket seem cheap. The early-bird going rate for each .sucks domain is $2,500 each, for now. Existing trademark holders must act before June 1 lest the names fall into unfriendly hands. Those acting already reportedly include Wal-Mart, Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Fortune 500 companies would pay over $1.2 million in registration fees if each purchased only a single domain name in self-defense of its trademark, reputation and good will. But multiply the expense by the number of brand names they utilize. Procter & Gamble has scores of consumer brands. Coca-Cola claims over 500 brands for its beverages. General Motors uses 13 auto brands; Ford Motor Co. uses dozens.

An unlimited number of national and local businesses will need to fork over $2,500 per name and per brand to protect themselves from having “.sucks” fall into hostile hands. The alternative is litigation or a costly process of trying to block those websites.

Celebrities must defend not only by purchasing .sucks but also URLs that follow the person’s name with .xxx, .porn or anything similar. Taylor Swift and Kevin Spacey are two among the thousands of celebrities who reportedly have done so. And so have many universities and other groups.

Is there a legitimate need for this government-created chaos? Even before ICANN opened Pandora’s box by adding 1,000 top-level domains, the Internet had over 600 million websites and seemed to be doing pretty well on its own.

The company that runs .sucks, Vox Populi, claims it is simply providing a public service for legitimate protests. That sounds suspiciously like what we heard from the Occupy movement as it trashed parks and committed public indecencies. The Internet already has popular sites devoted to lodging complaints, public as well as private, including Ripoffreport.com and Consumerist.com. Their business models now are upended by the opportunism of Vox Populi’s .sucks.

At a recent congressional hearing, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, called the domain .sucks “legalized extortion.” Mr. Obama approved ICANN, then ICANN approved the domain, but now is asking the Federal Trade Commission and others to shut it down. That’s like Dr. Frankenstein asking the villagers to stop the monster he created.

Former Rep. Ernest Istook is founder and president of Americans for Less Regulation. Subscribe to his free email newsletter at eepurl.com/JPojD.

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