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Congressmen Concerned Over ICANN TLD Process

Wary of the review process of new top-level domain names, Reps. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., this week sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of Commerce Gregory L. Rohde asking that he put a stay on any action the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) suggests.

The representatives said in the letter that they want the Department of Commerce and the public to review ICANN's process, which has already sparked concerns through its rejection of recommended TLDs such as .kids and .xxx.

Rohde was specifically addressed because he is President Bill Clinton's principal adviser on the advancement of technology and telecommunications policies. Markey and Capps said their primary concern was that the process seems to reinforce what is largely perceived by pundits as a monopoly by Network Solutions Inc., a member of Afilias Group, which is one of three groups vying for the rights to the .web TLD. Network Solutions controls .com, .net and .org.

The two feared that ICANN was not paying attention to the fact that Network Solutions' participation would not "move the internet domain name system away from its monopolistic antecedents." They also decried the fact that the incoming ICANN board members would not be voting on the new TLD matters.

The fact that every member of Afilias holds an equal share of 5.25 percent, with no one member allowed to own more than 11 percent, and that Network Solutions does not have a seat on the executive committee nor the 13-person board of ICANN, does little to assuage the concerns of the representatives or other applicants.

Image Online Design Inc. is one of the firms going head-to-head with the Afilias consortium. The firm is upset because although it has used .web for the last four years and has more than 20,000 .web domain name holders, ICANN seems to be bearish on certain details of its application despite the fact that it passed the threshold requirement.

Chief Technology Officer of Image Online Chris Ambler has said that his firm has not gotten fair consideration from ICANN's preliminary reports, which he thinks means the organization might be leaning toward awarding .web to Afilias Group.

Image Online spokesperson Michael Powell spoke even more strongly Thursday. He said it was proper for Congress to play watchdog to ICANN's heavily-debated review process, something it hasn't done much of in the past.

"It's perfectly appropriate for [Congress] to review the process that ICANN has put in place here," Powell said. "[ICANN] has a tendency to choose big conglomerates; they seem to have a bias against smaller registries and in doing so they violate the spirit of what they laid out. They're trying to promote competition and promote diversity of proposals and the very people in the final cut aren't going to achieve any of that."

Aware of such concerns, ICANN Board Chairwoman Esther Dyson said Thursday that the board was very much in "risk reduction mode," adding that they want to choose only those TLDs that will work. But this will do nothing to soothe rejected applicants' anger should their final proposals be nixed: Each applicant shelled out $50,000 to get in the door of the process.

Applicants were allowed a final three-minute pitch each. ICANN will most likely make its final decisions Friday.

InternetNews Radio host Brian McWilliams contributed to this story.