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House Subcommittee Scrutinizes Possible Domain Name Expansion

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011 – The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet held a hearing Wednesday to investigate the possible effects of expanding Internet domain names beyond the traditional suffixes like .com and .net to potentially anything a registrant could type.

The subcommittee probed plans by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to expand the generic top level domains (gTLDs) beyond the set menu of familiar suffixes like .org and .gov. The proposed new regime could comprise either an expanded menu of choices or an open door for registrants to create a suffix of their choosing, such as .google or .microsoft.

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WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011 – The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet held a hearing Wednesday to investigate the possible effects of expanding Internet domain names beyond the traditional suffixes like .com and .net to potentially anything a registrant could type.

The subcommittee probed plans by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to expand the generic top level domains (gTLDs) beyond the set menu of familiar suffixes like .org and .gov.  The proposed new regime could comprise either an expanded menu of choices or an open door for registrants to create a suffix of their choosing, such as .google or .microsoft.

ICANN, which formed in 1998, is a non-profit corporation that manages the domain name system for Internet website addresses.  Each website “lives” at an address designated by a string of numbers – called an IP address – which operates like a telephone number.  ICANN indexes those numbers and pairs them up with domain names, which allows users to find a website by typing in an easy-to-remember name rather than a difficult-to-remember string of seemingly random numbers.

As ICANN presumes – and a number of subcommittee members acknowledged – the go-ahead on generic top level domains would likely spur investment by offering many new entrants sought-after domain names, albeit with different suffixes. The move would also lay the groundwork for allowing the creation of domain names in non-Latin characters, such as Arabic or Japanese.

On the other hand, subcommittee members worried, the creation of unlimited gTLDs could also create a host of problems.

“New gTLDs will likely spur investment and revenue,” said subcommittee chair, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) during his prepared statement, “but [they] may cause consumer confusion and open doors to fraud.”

Later on in the hearing, Goodlatte questioned whether there were financial motivations in the form of raises or bonuses for anyone at ICANN to push the proposed expansion. ICANN senior vice president, Kurt Pritz, said he did not know the answer to that question.

Goodlatte also indicated that if ICANN introduced gTLDs, he would like to see a significant portion of the proceeds from the sale of new domains invested protections for trademark and intellectual property owners.

In addition to the consumer issues ICANN’s proposal presents, trademark holders also face potential skyrocketing costs associated with ensuring the integrity of their marks.

When questioned, Mei-Lan Stark, a member of the Board of Directors of the International Trademark Association acknowledge the value of making the Internet more accessible to those using non-Latin alphabets, but noted the difficulty and cost already associated with defending marks on the Internet due to multiple gTLDs.

To illustrate, Stark relayed the problems a Fox affiliate had when its domain name was copied with a different suffix and used by an overseas registrant to host a pornography site.

To head off problems, in a practice known as “defensive registration,” many registrants will scoop up domain names with additional suffixes like .net or .co in addition to the .com.   When trademark disputes do arise, however, ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) requires that the parties settle the matter by agreement, arbitration or court action before the organization will cancel, suspend or transfer a domain name.

In many cases, where an alleged infringer resides outside the U.S., a long-term resolution may be all but impossible, according to Philip Foret, a partner and intellectual property attorney at Dilworth Paxson LLP in Philadelphia. The World Wide Web, he says, is the “Wild West” of trademark law.

“The problem with overseas infringers is that they can avail themselves to loopholes,” says Foret.  “You can send them a cease and desist letter, but then they take the site down and retain the address so you have to continue to monitor these sites.”

Adding a theoretically infinite number of gTLDs to the mix could very well lead to what Foret calls a cybersquatting “land rush” on domains similar to the mid-1990’s and consequent exponential increase in already high legal costs for trademark policing.  Moreover, with respect to the ability to absorb those costs, all companies are not equal.

“It’s really the smaller and medium sized companies with low or no legal budgets that would be most affected when having to police trademark rights,” says Foret. “They may have to spend a lot of company resources protecting their brands.”

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

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China

New Leadership and Priorities for Republican-Led Energy and Commerce Committee

The new chair renamed three subcommittees, hinting at the GOP’s goals for the coming term.

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Photo of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2018 by Gage Skidmore, used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2023 — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., recently named chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced on Wednesday the new Republican leadership and membership of each subcommittee, giving insight into which members of Congress will be at the forefront of key technology decisions over the coming term.

McMorris Rodgers also announced changes to the committee’s structure, renaming three subcommittees and shifting some of their responsibilities. The changes aim to “ensure our work tackles the greatest challenges and most important priorities of the day, including lowering energy costs, beating China and building a more secure future,” McMorris Rodgers told Fox News.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J. — now the committee’s ranking member after serving as chair for the past four years — announced on Friday each subcommittee’s Democratic membership and leadership, and named Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., as the vice ranking member for the full committee.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., who will serve as the committee’s vice chair, is a vocal critic of Big Tech. In 2021, he was one of several Republicans who championed major reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The committee’s new names hint at some of the ways that the committee’s priorities may shift as Republicans take control. The former Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee is now titled the Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee and will be chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., alongside Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Bilirakis and McMorris Rodgers have already announced the subcommittee’s first hearing, which will focus on U.S. global technology leadership and competition with China.

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee, now led by Chair Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Doris Matsui, D-Calif., also emphasized competition with China in the announcement of a hearing on the global satellite industry.

Latta has previously spoken out against the total repeal of Section 230, but he has also expressed concerns about the extent to which it protects tech companies. In an April 2021 op-ed written jointly with Bilirakis, Latta accused social media platforms of engaging in “poisonous practices… that drive depression, isolation and suicide.”

The Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals Subcommittee, formerly known as the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Bill Johnson, R-Ohio and Ranking Member Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

The Energy Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee, formerly known as the Energy Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and Ranking Member Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

The Health Subcommittee will be led by Chair Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will be led by Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Ranking Member Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

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Digital Inclusion

CES 2023: Congressional Oversight, Digital Equity Priorities for New Mexico Senator

Sen. Lujan once again voiced concern that the FCC’s national broadband map contains major inaccuracies.

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Photo of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., in February 2018 by Keith Mellnick used with permission

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2023 – Sen. Ben Ray Lujan on Friday endorsed “oversight at every level” of executive agencies’ broadband policies and decried service providers that perpetuate digital inequities.

Lujan appeared before an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to preview the tech-policy priorities of the 118th Congress.

Among Washington legislators, Senators had CES 2023 to themselves: Representatives from the House of Representatives were stuck in Washington participating on Friday in the 12th, 13th and 14th votes for House Speaker.

Congress allocated $65 billion to broadband projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the bulk of which, housed in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, is yet to be disbursed. The IIJA funds are primarily for infrastructure, but billions are also available for digital equity and affordability projects.

Several federal legislators, including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., have called for close supervision of Washington’s multitude of broadband-related programs. At CES on Friday, Warner argued that previous tranches of broadband funding have been poorly administered, and Lujan once again voiced concern that the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map, whose data will be used to allocate BEAD funds, contains major inaccuracies.

Affordable, high-speed broadband is now a necessity, stated Warner. Lujan argued that policy must crafted to ensure all communities have access to connectivity.

“The [Federal Communications Commission] is working on some of the digital equity definitions right now…. I don’t want to see definitions that create loopholes that people can hide behind to not connect communities,” the New Mexico senator said, emphasizing the importance of “the digital literacy to be able take advantage of what this new connection means, so that people can take advantage of what I saw today [at CES].”

At a Senate hearing in December, Lujan grilled executives from industry trade associations over allegations of digital discrimination.

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Omnibus Bill Includes FCC Spectrum Auction Extension, TikTok Ban on Government Devices

The spending package includes an extension of the FCC’s auction authority to March 2023.

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Photo of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL.

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2022 – A massive omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2023 released Tuesday includes a provision to extend the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority at least until March 2023.

The commission’s authority has already been extended from September to December. But Tuesday’s $1.7 trillion appropriations bill to power the government through September would extend that authority further to March 9, 2023.

Experts and FCC officials have warned about letting lapse the commission’s authority to auction the valuable airwaves, which power wireless communications services.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced earlier this year, would extend the commission’s authority to March 31, 2024.

TikTok ban on government devices

The omnibus bill also includes a ban on video sharing app TikTok on government devices, cited in the bill as the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act.” The Chinese-owned company has been flagged as a possible national security threat because of its ties to the Chinese Communist government.

The provision requires that not later than 60 days after the bill’s enactment, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with relevant agencies, “develop standards and guidelines for executive agencies requiring the removal of any covered application from information technology.”

The ban also covers any further apps developed or owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance.

Earlier this month, Maryland moved to eliminate the app from government devices and networks.

Consumer protection, cybersecurity measures

The sprawling bill also includes a provision to establish a national standard for online seller transparency and require the Federal Trade Commission to report on cross-border cyber attacks.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ., and Jan Schakowsky, D-IL., advocated for enhanced protections in the bill that puts the FTC at its center. That includes a Schakowsky-authored provision establishing a national standard – enforced by the competition agency and state attorneys general – that requires online platforms to verify the identity of high-volume third-party sellers so that consumers can get basic identification on the sellers.

Another provision, also authored by Schakowsky — chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee — would require the FTC to report on cross-border complaints about ransomware and other cyber attacked committed by foreign individuals, companies and governments, specifically Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has been the subject of major cyberattacks that struck financial services, oil transport, and software companies.

“This end-of-year package is in lock step with our Committee’s commitment to put consumers first,” said the representatives in a joint statement. “It includes legislation that will help curb the onslaught of counterfeit, defective, and unsafe products available to Americans shopping on third-party e-commerce sites—a major source of fake and unsafe goods. It also includes commonsense provisions to keep dangerous furniture products that can tip over on small children off the market and out of our homes.”

Congress is reportedly pushing for the passing of the bill before Christmas.

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