Web address controversy

Web address controversy deepens after US warning

A controversial attempt to expand Internet addresses far beyond the likes of .com, .org or .net has provoked a rare threat from the US government to withdraw a key licence from the body that runs the Internet’s core functions.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) depends on its US government contract to coordinate the unique addresses that tell computers where to find each other, without which the global Internet could not function. But this month the government warned that the non-profit body’s rules against conflicts of interest were not strong enough and only temporarily extended ICANN’s contract – which it has held since its formation in 1998 – instead of renewing it as many in the industry had expected.

A failure to secure the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) contract would severely damage ICANN’s ability to implement its address expansion programme, the most radical move in the organisation’s history.

The conflict of interest concerns arise from the fact that some past and present board members stand to benefit financially from the liberalisation of Web addresses through ties to organisations that make money from registering new domain names or consulting on the expansion. Currently, organisations are restricted to a couple of dozen so-called top-level domains, such as .com, .org or .net, or country code domains such as .co.uk. ICANN wants to enable brands, cities or firms seeking to build new Internet businesses to apply to own and run their own domains, for example .apple, .nyc or .gay, giving them more control over their Web presence and a greater choice of names.

“Not to award ICANN the IANA contract would be to completely knock it off its foundations,” said Philip Corwin, who is legal counsel for the Internet Commerce Association, an organisation for domain name investors and developers. “ICANN needs that contract to have the authority they need to really make this programme work.” The contract has been renewed until September.

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