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ICANN sees “crescendo” of new TLD comment

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2010, 17:15:37 (UTC), Domain Registries

With less than 24 hours to go before ICANN’s board of directors decides the fate of the new top-level domains program, the comments and criticisms are rapidly accumulating, split along predictable lines.

In short: pretty much everybody in the domain name industry wants the TLD process to kick off ASAP, and pretty much everybody else who has an interest thinks it should not.

Kurt Pritz, ICANN’s senior vice president of stakeholder relations, said at a press conference this morning that “rather than comment diminishing towards the end to a whimper and the Guidebook being launched, we’re seeing it raising to a crescendo”.

Publicly filed comments can be found here.

“Crescendo” may be an over-statement, but verbal comments here at the ICANN meeting have been flying thick and fast and the rhetoric dial will certainly get turned up to 11 during the public forum this afternoon.

Many opponents of the proposed final Applicant Guidebook are objecting to the fact that the deadline for filing comments is tomorrow, just a couple of hours before the board convenes.

Microsoft associate general counsel Russell Pangborn, for instance, wrote:

Approval of the PAG on December 10 conveys the message that the Board deems public comment irrelevant. The possibility that ICANN staff will have read all public comment and provided a public comment summary to the Board with sufficient time for full consideration and discussion by the Board is slim at best.

Microsoft is one of many companies worried that new TLD registries’ business models will essentially be subsidized by defensive registrations paid for by big trademark holders.

The US Chamber of Commerce put it fairly succinctly:

the current plan still requires businesses to pay for defensive registrations in hundreds of new gTLDs, at prices that are unconstrained by ICANN or other bodies… Moreover, the legal expenses and domain acquisition costs of defensive registrations will not be offset by potential economic or informational value to either registrants or Internet users.

But the most comprehensively detailed objection filed by IP stakeholders over the last day or so seems to have come from INTA, the International Trademark Association.

Weighing in at 15 pages, the INTA filing says the AGB “raises significant new issues”, such as the lifting of the vertical integration ban and the new registry code of conduct.

One of its biggest issues, which I’ve heard from several other people here in Cartagena this week, is that the AGB’s rights protection mechanisms, such as Uniform Rapid Suspension and the Trademark Clearinghouse, seem to specifically exclude non-US trademarks.

That’s a pretty big issue for Europeans – the German representative on the Governmental Advisory Committee indicated on Tuesday that he thinks it’s a deal-breaker.

As I blogged yesterday, the GAC has aligned itself with the trademark lobby in its objections to ICANN, which may well delay the launch of the new TLD program somewhat.

The key issue for the GAC is the balance between cost (to trademark owners) and benefit (to everyone else).

Elliot Noss of Tucows expressed in his comment how difficult it is to predict what economic value could be created by new TLDs.

When the new round proceeds we will see a marked change in the way people will use domain names. The ability to find resources of all kinds more easily on the Internet will provide a small, but clear incremental benefit to users. But that benefit will be felt trillions of times! Every time someone finds something on the Internet more easily there will be a benefit.

There has been a lot of discussion of competition for .com. What we need to think about is NOT will any single domain become a competitor for .com, but instead will a large number of domains in aggregate provide competition for .com. This issue cannot possibly be understood by studying the extremely limited TLD introductions of the past.

Some other likely TLD applicants kept their statements short and sweet, perhaps for fear of inadvertently causing delay through verbosity.

Statton Hammock of Network Solutions wrote:

A document of this complexity and importance can never be “perfect,” or “complete” in the eyes of everyone. Though further refinements to the language could be made, we believe that the DAG, in its current form, is robust enough to support the launch of the new gTLD application process.

Pritz said that the ICANN board is “actively monitoring” the comments and will continue to do so up until its meeting tomorrow.

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