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Wyden raises internet bias question on domain names

September 22, 2011

Wyden Calls for Ethics Rules to Prevent Revolving Door for Internet Domain Name Regulators
By Senator Ron Wyden, Press Release

Washington, D.C. – As the online community prepares for a massive expansion in potential domain names and the expiration of the contract with the non-profit, non-governmental organization responsible for domain name regulation, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) raised concerns about the potential for bias and unfair favoritism stemming from a revolving door between internet regulators and the multi-million dollar domain name industry they formerly regulated.

In a letter to Acting Commerce Department Secretary Rebecca Blank and Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling – the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) – that is responsible for overseeing internet regulators. Wyden highlighted the need for ethics and transparency rules — similar to that of Federal officials — to be included in any contract with future domain name authorities known as an Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers Authority (ICANN) is set to expire on September 30.

“As you know, any designated IANA is hugely important in regulating the multi-million dollar domain name industry,” Wyden said in the letter. “At the same time, because the IANA is not a branch of the federal government, its executive leadership is not subject to the same financial disclosure, ethics, or conflict of interest rules as executive leadership at federal agencies or in Congress.”

“While I support the control of this system by NTIA, I also believe that any IANA employees ought to be made subject to the same ethics rules in place as NTIA employees. With the growth in importance of this authority, it is important to ensure that decisions are made impartially,” Wyden continued in the letter.

Over the last decade, the selling of internet domain names has grown into a multi-million dollar industry and is poised to grow significantly as an expansion of potential domain name suffixes (ex: .com and .org) is implemented. However, ICANN – the non-profit that regulates these sales – is not a government agency and is not subject to the same ethics rules as other federal agencies. As news reports have indicated, a formerly high-ranking official at ICANN has left the organization and was immediately hired by one of the domain name companies regulated by ICANN. Wyden has raised concerns about the revolving door between the organization and the industry and called for strict ethics guidelines highlighting transparency at any future domain name regulator be worked into the upcoming contract negotiation.

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