Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Former ICANN Chairman Warns Opposition To New Domain Names Could Fracture The Internet

Posted by Tom Foremski - December 1, 2011

Peter Dengate-Thrush, the recent chairman of ICANN, the Internet regulatory body, warned that opposition to ICANN's new top level domain names (TLDs) could encourage some countries to split from the Internet.

In an interview with SVW, he said opposition by the US Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which represents large US corporations, threatens the independence of the global Internet.

If the ANA and its US allies succeed in blocking ICANN, the Internet will be seen as controlled by powerful US interests.

Mr Dengate-Thrush worked 12 years at ICANN, seven years as Chairman before retiring in June.

Beginning next year, companies will be able to create new top level domain names using almost any word as a top level domain name (TLD) instead of generic TLDs .com, org, etc. Canon, for example, could create and buy the exclusive rights to .Canon. Or a city could create its own TLD, such as .SanJose.

The ANA says that the flood of TLDs would bring "confusion into the marketplace and increasing the likelihood of cybersquatting and other malicious conduct, the ICANN top-level domain program diminishes the power of trademarks to serve as strong, accurate and reliable symbols of source and quality in the marketplace."

ICANN denies the ANA charges and says that the TLD naming policy took more than ten years, and included input from more than 85 countries, and thousands of organizations. And that the ANA did not voice its opposition at any time during the lengthy consultation period.

"If the ANA succeeds against ICANN, it will strengthen the view that the US controls the Internet," said Mr Dengate-Thrush.

He said that since ICANN was formed in the late 1990s, it had several times prevented the Internet from fracturing because of concerns over US control. This was done by gradually removing US government jurisdiction over key control points of the Internet.

There is one remaining issue: the US Department of Commerce controls the root zone file, a tiny (200 KB) but essential file that determines the hierarchy of the entire address system of the Internet.

The Department of Commerce oversight is just to make sure that ICANN policies are being followed by the root zone file but even that small level of US government involvement has been a major issue among countries worried about US influence over an increasingly critical part of their communications and commercial infrastructure.

If the powerful ANA and its US allies prevail against the new ICANN policy domain name policy, the perception that the Internet is controlled by the US could lead to the formation of many Internet-like networks.

If each country has its own version of ICANN, with different policies and regulations, it could lead to a slowdown in innovation, and in the expansion of important digital services to billions of people.

Please see the interview with Peter Dengate-Thrush here.


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