- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

The private group that oversees the Internet was criticized yesterday for its plan to sort out an increasingly crowded Web, and critics recommended its authority be scaled back to make decisions only on technical issues.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), chosen by the U.S. government in 1998 to take over Internet-naming duties, came under attack yesterday by legislators, private companies and Internet watchdogs during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on telecommunications.

After a three-month process to select new domain name suffixes, ICANN's 19-member board of directors picked seven .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro in November.

Currently, .com, .net and .org at the end of Internet addresses are the most commonly used domain-name suffixes.

But critics have howled that ICANN's work to pick the new suffixes was veiled in secrecy, that the nonrefundable application fee of $50,000 was too high and that applicants faced subjective criteria.

"To hear some of the participants explain it, events at the Vatican are shrouded in less mystery than how ICANN chooses top level domains," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.

ICANN rejected an application by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to begin a .travel domain name for Web sites used by airlines, hotels, travel agents, tour operator and others in the travel industry.

The association wasn't awarded the domain name and the chance to register addresses ending in .travel, even though 75 groups, including the American Society of Travel Agents, supported its application.

"IATA is deeply concerned about the absence of fairness and due process in the selection of new [domain names]," said IATA Legal Director David Short.

ICANN rejected 37 applications in all. ICANN also denied applications from companies proposing to register .kids for children's sites and .xxx for pornographic sites.

Rep. John Shimkus, Illinois Republican, criticized ICANN for not selecting the .xxx domain name and missing a chance to protect on-line users by herding pornographic sites in a single area.

"You're inviting us to have more of these hearings," Mr. Shimkus said.

But Vinton Cerf, chairman of ICANN's board of directors and widely considered one of the founders of the Internet, defended ICANN and said the agency tried its best to act fairly in its first attempt to add domain names.

ICANN embarked on the effort to pick alternatives to .com, .net and .org because no new domain names have been added since 1985, Mr. Cerf said. That's when the domain system was put into use.

Adding new domain names is expected to make the Internet easier for Web surfers to use. About 20 million addresses already end with the popular .com suffix. Domain names help Internet users find sites without remembering the string of numbers assigned to each computer connected to Web.

ICANN received 44 applications for new domain names, but the group intended to pick just a few of those because of questions about how the introduction of new suffixes to the Web would work. In some cases, Mr. Cerf conceded, the group resorted to subjectivity in deciding which domain names to add to the Internet.

"What I hope is that it can be so objective … that we don't have to make value judgments," Mr. Cerf said.

He also said ICANN could begin a new effort to pick more domain names within six months. That means domain names like the International Air Transport Association's proposed .travel suffix still could find a home on the Web. Before the next round begins, though, critics said some reform of ICANN is needed so the agency no longer wanders into the realm of policy making and sticks to technical issues.

Mr. Cerf agreed.

"I am a strong proponent of limiting the role of ICANN," Mr. Cerf said. "We need to reexamine the procedures we used in November."

One jilted company suggested not only that last year's process be re-examined, but that all the applications be reviewed to try to correct what it considers a flawed system.

"The Department of Commerce should direct ICANN to immediately suspend the current process and to reconsider all [domain name] applications those approved and denied under a procedure that is fairer and more rational than witnessed in recent months," said Lou Kerner, chief executive of Los Angeles-based The .tv Corp.

The company filed an application proposing it register .tv Web addresses, but ICANN denied its request.

The new domain names ICANN has picked could begin appearing later this year.

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