ICANN hands over '.us' reins to NeuStar

On November 19 the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced that the '.us' country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) had been redelegated from VeriSign to NeuStar Inc. The US government awarded the contract to provide '.us' registry services to NeuStar in late October.

The '.us' domain is the official ccTLD for the United States. However, while ccTLDs in other countries (eg, '.fr' in France and '.uk' in the United Kingdom) are viewed as a valuable commodity, '.us' has been used infrequently in cyberspace, due in part to the overwhelming popularity of '.com' and the difficulty of obtaining a '.us' registration.

NeuStar is hoping that the appeal of a '.us' web address will grow through a combination of (i) aggressive advertising campaigns intended to capitalize on the wave of patriotism since September 11, and (ii) a plan to provide the registry with organization and stability.

Among the policies that NeuStar has proposed are:

  • the implementation of a sunrise registration period for trademark holders;

  • the implementation of a dispute resolution policy based in part on modifications to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) in place for generic top-level domains;

  • the formation of a '.us' Policy Council, which would have a purely advisory role; and

  • a requirement that registrants have a US nexus, either through citizenship or domicile in the case of individuals, or incorporation or organization under state laws in the case of entities.

However, NeuStar's proposed policies are generating criticism from some groups. Some disapprove of the plan to open up the sunrise registration period not only to registered trademark owners, but also to those who have simply filed a trademark application. Critics point out that many trademark applications are eventually denied and, therefore, it is unwise to base eligibility for award of a domain name on the filing of an application alone.

A second topic that has sparked debate is the modified dispute resolution process. NeuStar intends to make two significant changes to the UDRP in what it considers an effort to limit decisions in favour of cybersquatters. First, the modified policy will require that a trademark owner establish that a domain name is either registered in bad faith or used in bad faith. The UDRP requires a finding of both before an arbitrator may find in favour of a trademark owner. The second important change eliminates the requirement that a trademark owner show that a cybersquatter has engaged in a pattern of conduct. Critics note that these amendments reflect an independent decision on the part of NeuStar to dispense with two features of the UDRP that were the result of a much-debated compromise reached in the final days of drafting.

The registration process for new '.us' domain names is expected to begin mid-2002.

Anthony Lupo and Jennifer Myron, Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, Washington DC

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