Ahead of the Bell: Senate panel on domain names

NEW YORK (AP) ? A Senate committee is reviewing concerns over a plan to allow Internet address suffixes named after brands, hobbies, political causes and just about anything else. A hearing is set for Thursday.

Some groups representing advertisers and businesses worry that the imminent expansion of the Internet’s domain name system, scheduled to begin early next year, will harm trademark owners if others are able to claim suffixes with their brand names.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the agency in charge of the system, approved the expansion in June after considering such worries. ICANN has come up with procedures for any party to object to applications for trademark, or other reasons. That wasn’t enough to satisfy critics.

The Association of National Advertisers, whose 400-plus companies represent more than 10,000 brands, has said the expansion will create brand confusion and other problems online. The group also objected to ICANN’s analysis concluding that the expansion will increase competition and address shortages in domain names. It has recruited trade groups representing grocery manufacturers, restaurant owners, insurance companies and other industries in a coalition to oppose the expansion.

Representatives from ICANN and the advertising group are among those scheduled to testify Thursday at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Washington.

A House subcommittee has a similar hearing scheduled for next week.

It’s not clear what Congress could do. The U.S. Commerce Department technically controls the domain name system because the U.S. government funded much of the Internet’s early development. But the department has largely ceded that authority to ICANN, a nonprofit organization in California with international board representation.