Icann and Antitrust
56 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2001
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a private non-profit company which, pursuant to contracts with the US government, acts as the de facto regulator for DNS policy. ICANN decides what TLDs will be made available to users, and which registrars will be permitted to offer those TLDs for sale. In this article we focus on a hitherto-neglected implication of ICANN's assertion that it is a private rather than a public actor: its potential liability under the U.S. antitrust laws, and the liability of those who transact with it. ICANN argues that it is not as closely tied to the government as NSI and IANA were in the days before ICANN was created. If this is correct, it seems likely that ICANN will not benefit from the antitrust immunity those actors enjoyed. Some of ICANN's regulatory actions may restrain competition, e.g. its requirement that applicants for new gTLDs demonstrate that their proposals would not enable competitive (alternate) roots and ICANN's preventing certain types of non-price competition among registrars (requiring the UDRP). ICANN's rule adoption process might be characterized as anticompetitive collusion by existing registrars, who are likely not be subject to the Noerr-Pennington lobbying exemption. Whether ICANN has in fact violated the antitrust laws depends on whether it is an antitrust state actor, whether the DNS is an essential facility, and on whether it can shelter under precedents that protect standard-setting bodies. If (as seems likely) a private ICANN and those who petition it are subject to antitrust law, everyone involved in the process needs to review their conduct with an eye towards legal liability. ICANN should act very differently with respect to both the UDRP and the competitive roots if it is to avoid restraining trade.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation