Testimony of Assistant Secretary Victory on the Dot Kids Name Act of 2001

November 01, 2001
Testimony of Nancy J. Victory
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Telecommunications and Information
before the
House Energy and Commerce Committee
Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet
on H.R. 2417, the "Dot Kids Name Act of 2001"

November 1, 2001

Chairman Upton, I would like to thank you and the members of the Subcommittee for inviting me here to testify today. Developing safe spaces on the Internet for children is certainly a worthwhile undertaking and I appreciate this opportunity to work with you to realize this goal.

I believe that the Internet should be a tool of electronic commerce, education, entertainment, and communications for all Americans. During my tenure at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), I intend to further policies that produce opportunities for all Americans to take greater part in the digital age. At the same time, I want to ensure that the Internet provides positive, safe online experiences for our children.

The Administration continues to support ongoing private sector efforts to address many of the concerns raised by our children's increasing access to the Internet. There have been many thoughtful and innovative approaches taken by industry, non-profit organizations, and public institutions to provide ready access to child-friendly, quality content on the Internet and to develop technological tools that help parents and guardians protect children from material they consider inappropriate. I commend them for these laudable efforts.

As you know, there are a number of excellent web sites specifically designed for children. Industry has also developed any number of innovative technology tools, including filtering software and browser applications. Recently, the Internet Content Rating Association, a global non-profit organization backed by industry leaders such as AOL, the Microsoft Network and Yahoo!, announced that it has developed a new voluntary rating system that allows content providers to label web site content. And, just this week, EarthLink announced that it had teamed with SurfMonkey to offer a free, downloadable browser and new children's services designed to offer children a safer online experience. In addition, EarthLink will offer a $2.95 per month premium service that provides advanced parental controls on e-mail, instant messaging, videophone, bulletin boards and chatrooms and that includes a technology that enables children to communicate only with friends whom their parents have approved.

These efforts promise to empower parents to manage their children's online experiences consistent with their individual values. The Administration continues to believe that industry working with concerned parents and family organizations can make great strides in improving the quality of a child's experience on the Internet.

I am particularly pleased to report on two actions that the Department of Commerce announced this week that I believe will enhance opportunities for Americans, including children, on the Internet. First, the Department entered into a cooperative agreement with EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit organization representing the information technology needs of the U.S. higher education community, to better manage and expand the existing .edu domain. The .edu domain is one of the original seven top level domains created by the founders of the Internet for use by four-year colleges and universities in the United States for computer research purposes. This legacy domain has since been used by U.S. institutions of higher learning to provide college registration services, distance learning programs, curricula distribution, and a myriad of other educational purposes. The cooperative agreement with EDUCAUSE recognizes the importance of involving the higher education community in the policymaking related to .edu to ensure that it better serves education in America. I am also pleased to announce that, as one of its first actions, EDUCAUSE will be making the .edu domain available to approximately1,200 regionally accredited community colleges across the United States.

I am also pleased to report that the Department awarded a contract to NeuStar, Inc., for management of the existing .us domain. The .us domain is the country code top level domain created by Internet founders to be associated with the United States. It is currently used primarily by state and local governments, schools, libraries and other public institutions. Because of its cumbersome locality-based naming structure, the .us domain has been largely unused by American businesses and consumers.

However, we are hoping the NeuStar contract will change that by providing enhanced opportunities for all Americans - - small businesses, industry, individuals, state and local governments, and schools and libraries - - to have a presence on the Internet uniquely associated with the United States. NeuStar has committed to making substantial investments in the technical management of .us as well as developing a means for U.S. stakeholders to participate in policymaking. One of the interesting aspects of its proposal is to create "public resource" domains under .us to serve as common spaces to further various public interest and service objectives. Pertinent to today's hearing is that NeuStar specifically proposes for one such public resource domain a ".kids.us" space as a "safe" space on the Internet specifically tailored to the needs of children.

We at the Department of Commerce are looking forward to working with NeuStar to explore implementation of this aspect of their proposal in a manner consistent with our goal of empowering parents and respecting our nation's fundamental commitment to free expression. We will work with the Subcommittee as we move forward in this implementation to ensure that our mutual goals are achieved.

The Subcommittee has asked for my comments on H.R. 2417, the "Dot Kids Domain Name Act of 2001," and the manager's amendment. While the NeuStar proposal may obviate the need for such legislation, I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts. While I support the goal of the legislation, the mechanisms contemplated in both versions raise substantial policy and legal concerns.

The bill as introduced seeks to mandate the creation of a top level ".kids" domain by requiring the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to select a .kids domain operator. Such regulation of the management of the Internet domain name system is inconsistent with the established policy goal of privatization of that system, and particularly, private sector leadership with respect to the introduction of new top level domains.

Among other things, unilateral action by the United States to create an "international" .kids domain is at odds with the global nature of the Internet and its domain name system. International reaction to U.S. efforts to legislate in the area of domain name management could hamper the United States' abilities to advance its foreign policy objectives, particularly critical telecommunications and information policy goals. Our international allies have a strongly held aversion to United States' efforts to assert its national will on the Internet, a global resource. In fact, some governments have already raised objections to the instant legislation and have suggested that this kind of U.S. action supports their position that Internet-related decisionmaking should more properly be decided through international governmental organizations.

I am also concerned about the mechanisms that the bill uses to mandate the creation of such a domain. The bill uses the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Commerce and ICANN to regulate its activities with respect to new top level domains. All activities under the memorandum of understanding, however, are by mutual agreement. The Department of Commerce does not "regulate" ICANN. The memorandum of understanding very clearly leaves the selection and introduction of new top level domains to the private sector-led process within ICANN. I continue to believe that the private sector is best able to make decisions about new top level domains that affect the global Internet.

The bill would also prohibit ICANN from considering, or the Department from approving, any new top level domain or country code top level domain until a .kids domain is established. I am very concerned about the potentially anti-competitive impact of this provision on U.S. stakeholders, including information technology companies, seeking to enter the domain name market. As Secretary of Commerce Evans wrote to Dr. Vinton Cerf, ICANN's Chairman, in May of this year, the Department supports ICANN's ongoing activities to select new top level domains. In particular, Secretary Evans noted the importance of competition in the top level domain market.

The bill also establishes a content standard for the .kids domain and requires ICANN and the Department to regulate online content based on this standard. Some courts have in the past found such government mandated standards to be problematic, and I understand this issue is currently pending before the Supreme Court in the COPA case. I am also concerned about the appropriateness of the Department of Commerce regulating online content. Traditionally, law enforcement agencies enforce the various prohibitions against illegal content (e.g., gambling, pornography, fraud).

I am pleased to say that some of the difficulties inherent in H.R. 2417 as introduced are eliminated in the manager's amendment by focusing instead on a domestic approach. The manager's amendment requires the creation of a second level ".kids" domain under the .us top level domain. While I believe focusing on .us is more likely to yield a successful realization of a "kid-friendly" space designed for American children, the manager's amendment still raises some policy and legal concerns. Particularly, I note that the amendment continues to require content standards and enforcement by the Department of Commerce. It also alters the existing contractual obligations between the Department of Commerce and NeuStar that were established through the government procurement process and it changes the company's expectations with respect to its opportunities under the award.

While the Department supports the development of a .kids.us domain, I am concerned that problems with this legislation could ultimately undermine that goal. I believe that development of a viable, voluntary space in the .us domain for children's content can better be achieved by focusing on implementation of the proposal put forth by NeuStar in the .us award. I would like to continue to work with the bill's sponsors to develop an approach that would ensure that the proposal is implemented in a timely and beneficial way. NTIA expects part of this effort to include working with our contractor to conduct outreach to interested family organizations and public interest groups and to consult with relevant government agencies, including the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice. I look forward to reporting back to the Committee soon on the progress we have achieved.

Again, thank you for this opportunity to testify. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.