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U.S. hand-over of domain name oversight is at least a year away

Congress still pressing on "domain name extortion"

The U.S. will extend its contract with ICANN at least through next July 2016, meaning that it will be a year or longer, before the government turns over stewardship of the domain name system to the multi-stakeholder organization that governs the Internet.

“It is clear we need to extend the contract to give the multi-stakeholder community the time it needs to finalize its proposal,” Larry Strickling, the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration told the House subcommittee on communications and technology Wednesday during a hearing on ICANN oversight.

The U.S. agreed in March 2014 to hand over control of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) contract. Lawmakers, concerned that they have some oversight in the process, have been moving the DOTCOM Act quickly through Congress. The bill gives Congress 30 days to certify the final transition proposal meets the Administration’s criteria and that ICANN has made critical changes to accountability.

Strickling, who returned a few weeks ago from ICANN’s global meeting in Buenos Aires, confirmed earlier reports about the timeline. He told lawmakers he recently asked for a status report from ICANN and give the U.S. a “best guess” for long it will take the organization to finalize the plan once it’s approved.

The three ICANN groups addressing the transition have finished their work, but the plan needs to be consolidated. Fadi Chehade, the outgoing president of ICANN, said he expects that to happen in October, when ICANN holds its next meeting in Dublin.

“We need to slow down and get this right,” Chehade told lawmakers. “We won’t move forward until things are in place, so we aren’t leaving ICANN with any loopholes in accountability,” he added.

Several lawmakers, including Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Bob Latta (R-Ohio) raised accountability-related concerns with ICANN’s Chehade, including what the organization might be able to do about IP infringement, fraud, and top level domains like dot-sucks, which is charging exorbitant rates to brands who might want to protect their trademark.

“Is there more ICANN can do to avoid extortion of top level domains,” Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) asked, referring to dot-sucks.

Chehade said ICANN can only do what the organization has asked it to do, which is to enforce contracts. “We’re an administrator,” he told Latta.

“If we receive complaints as we did with that TLD, we act on those complaints. We asked authority in that country [Cayman Islands] to ask for guidance. We are watching those TLD operators especially those we see complaints about. If the community wishes to change what they asked us to enforce, we can move policy bottom up that can change what we are able to enforce. We can’t regulate,” Chehade said.