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ICANN gets the call on .whatever

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The US government has criticised an ICANN plan to allow many more top level domain extensions, raising questions once again over the organization's independence from political interests in Washington.

The Los Angeles-based quango that runs the domain name system (DNS), is consulting on liberalistaion proposals that would allow large companies, cities or NGOs to run their own registry. It's planned each permission will cost $200,000.

The proposals also allow for domains using non-latin character sets, such as Cyrillic, which the Russian government has lobbied for.

In a letter to ICANN last week, Meredith Baker, who is in charge of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), wrote it was unclear "whether the potential consumer benefits outweigh the potential costs," AP reports. She added that new domain extensions must not jeopardise the stability or security of the DNS.

Baker also told ICANN that if the new rules are applied it should leave decisions over whether to allow controversial domain extensions to national governments, "such as adjudication of morality, public order and community objections". A long running debate in the domain community over whether there should be a .xxx extension for porn sites ended in 2007 with the ICANN board rejecting the idea - under political pressure - eight votes to four.

The effect of NTIA's intervention will be closely scrutinised by ICANN observers. In principle, ICANN is independent from the US government, but in reality runs the DNS under a federal contract, meaning Washington has significant sway. The plan to liberalise top level domains has been several years in the making.

The perceived political influence over ICANN was one of the reasons for the founding of the Internet Governance Forum by the UN. It serves as an annual forum for global discussion of internet policy issues independent of the US administration. ®

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