WASHINGTON – The U.S. Commerce Department will hold a Wednesday hearing on the government's September deadline to give up control over Internet domain names, a schedule that some high-tech industry advocates say should be delayed.
The U.S. government controls the naming system for ".com" and all web addresses through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based not-for-profit company that decides what names can and cannot be registered.
Some foreign governments and critics have been concerned that the U.S. government has too much control over what has become a global commerce, communications and social engine.
The transition is currently slated to take place by September 30, but the U.S. Commerce Department has the option to extend its control.
The European Commission was highly critical of what it called "political interference" by U.S. officials last May in rejecting a proposed .xxx Internet domain for pornography Web sites — a system supporters said would help confine and filter such sites.
The Commerce Department scheduled the Wednesday hearing to consider "the progress of this transition" to the private sector, according to a department statement.
Most companies and individuals register domain names such as the ubiquitous ".com" and ".net" addresses through private sector companies such as VeriSign Inc. (VRSN)
Less well known is that VeriSign operates the ".com" registry under a contract granted from ICANN, which cannot make changes to the domain name system without the approval of the U.S. Commerce Department.
While countries outside the United States rely on ICANN to maintain the domain name system (DNS) through what are known as "root servers," they could decide to set up their own root servers and operate under their own rules.
"The incentive [for the U.S. to privatize ICANN] is to keep the Internet on one DNS to avoid multiple systems — much like the multiple phone systems we have around the world," according to Steve DelBianco, director of The NetChoice Coalition, a Washington policy group.
Although DelBianco supports privatization in the long run, he suggests that the United States maintain control for two more years to ensure that ICANN is ready to operate as an independent entity.
"ICANN needs to be as strong as it can be to resist foreign governments," he said.