Plan to expand list of Web address suffixes is suspended


Forget .love and .joy. For now, it’s only .wait.

A closely watched effort to broaden Internet suffixes to include common names and words such as .google, .love and .car has been put on hold, leaving the hundreds of applicants who paid up to $185,000 for an extension in a lurch.

The Marina del Rey organization that decides how Internet addresses are determined has suspended the selection process “pending further analysis,” marking another setback for a plan to expand the suffixes beyond the ubiquitous .com, .edu, and .org.

“It’s not our finest moment to go through these things,” said Akram Atallah, chief operating officer for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. “We have learned a lot from these incidents, and we’re looking at doing a thorough review of our practices and processes and make sure we take them to the next level.”

More than 1,400 new extensions have been proposed in one of the most significant — and controversial — moves to broaden the way users navigate the Web. Some of the biggest names in corporate America have applied for new extensions, including Google Inc., Inc. and Apple Inc.

But the proposal has fueled intense competition among companies trying to establish and protect their online brands. With the new domain names, the Internet could, for instance, have competing companies vying for .apple.

Technical problems with the process haven’t helped.

In April, ICANN temporarily suspended receiving applications after discovering software glitches. It reopened the process last month. This month, another glitch left sensitive information of some applicants exposed online.

Then Saturday, ICANN halted the complicated selection process citing an unspecified glitch. The computerized system was designed to pick proposed extensions impartially.

Either way, applicants found the system unfair and difficult to use, said Michael Graham, a Chicago intellectual property lawyer who specializes in Internet cases.

The problems have led to increased scrutiny of the obscure organization.

“It’s a scary thought considering what they’re trying to do in changing the Internet architecture,” said Scott Bain, a lawyer with the Software & Information Industry Assn.

ICANN has been in charge of the Internet domain name system since 1998. Before that, the system was regulated by the U.S. government, but the Clinton administration transferred authority to the Southern California nonprofit as the Internet’s global reach made oversight by a single government unworkable.

But the organization is overseen by a hodgepodge of representatives from governments, businesses and academia who often disagree on how the Internet should be run.

“Inherently, when a bunch of divergent voices come together and voice what they want, not everyone’s going to walk away happy,” said Michael H. Berkens, chief executive of Worldwide Media Inc. and editor of the blog the Domains.

ICANN last week hired Fadi Chehadé, most recently the head of cloud-based software provider Vocado, as chief executive to replace Rod Beckstrom. Chehadé, who will take over in October, portrayed himself as a consensus builder at a news conference in Prague on Friday.

“Issues do occur. The question is, ‘What are we doing about the issues?’ ” Chehadé said. “Do we have the processes in place to deal with them, and I believe we do.”

Some say a large United Nations-like organization should be in charge of regulating the Web. “The question, from other countries’ points of view is, ‘Who died and made you boss?’ ” said Joe Touch, director of USC’s Internet research group, the Postel Center.

Others say the organization’s convoluted structure is necessary to keep Internet regulation independent. The contrasting interests of the various stakeholders force compromise, said Tamar Frankel, a Boston University law professor who was involved in ICANN’s development.

“For the Internet to be a useful and successful service to the world, there should never be one ruler,” Frankel said. “There should always be a conglomerate of conflicting interests. Every rule should be hashed out by many. No one should be a winner.”