The US House of Representatives last week held an oversight hearing into ICANN’s new top-level domains program.
It was clear from the start that ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz was going to have his work cut out, given how the panel of five other witnesses was loaded against him.
But as the hearing played out, it quickly became apparent that the real challenge lay not with his fellow witnesses — most of whom were either sympathetic to ICANN from the outset or occasionally forced to leap to its defense — but with the members of the Subcommittee.
While some Congressmen had merely bought into the positions of the trademark lobby, others were so far out of their depth you couldn’t even see the bubbles.
Here, in purely my personal opinion and in no particular order, are the Top 10 Dumbest Moments.
1. Chairman Goodlatte buys the FUD
Subcommittee chairman Bob Goodlatte’s opening statement appeared to have been written with significant input from the intellectual property lobby.
At the very least, he seemed to have accepted some of the more extreme and questionable positions of that lobby as uncontroversial fact.
With every new gTLD that is created, a brand holder will be forced to replicate their internet domain portfolio.
The roll-out of these new gTLDs will also complicate copyright enforcement, making it harder and more costly to find and stop online infringers.
He also, on more than one occasion, advocated a “trademark block list” – the Globally Protected Marks List, an idea even the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee has now rejected.
2. Whois privacy services are Bad
A couple of Congressmen and a couple of witnesses stated that Whois accuracy needs to be enforced more stringently by ICANN, and that Whois proxy/privacy services help criminals.
I took the liberty of doing Whois queries on the official campaign web sites of all 25 members of the Subcommittee, and found that 11 of them use privacy services.
That’s 44% of the committee. Studies have estimated that between 15% and 25% of all registrations use proxy/privacy services, so Congressmen appear to be relatively hard users.
Here’s the list:
It also turns out that dei.com, the domain name Rep. Issa bragged about owning during the hearing, has phoney data in its Whois record.
You can report him to ICANN here, if you’re so inclined.
It’s likely, of course, that these domains were registered by their staff, but I think we’re allowed to hold Congressmen to at least the same high standard they expect of the rest of us.
3. New TLDs will help porn typosquatters
Mei-lan Stark, an IP lawyer from Fox and the International Trademark Association, used the recent UDRP case over myfox2detroit.com as an example of abuse that could happen in new TLDs.
The domain directed visitors to a porn-laden link farm and was rightly deemed by WIPO to be confusingly similar to myfoxdetroit.com, the genuine Fox 2 Detroit site.
But, as Pritz pointed out later in the hearing, myfox2detroit.com is a .com domain. It’s not in a “new” TLD.
Fox, it transpires, has not registered the string “myfoxdetroit” in any other gTLD. Neither have the cybersquatters. It’s clearly not a brand that is, or needs to be, on Fox’s defensive registrations list.
That said, the “typo” myfoxdetroit.co, along with several other Fox .co domains, has been actually cybersquatted, so maybe Stark had a point.
4. Say Watt?
Rep. Mel Watt, the Subcommittee’s ranking member, couldn’t get a handle on why the pesky foreigners aren’t able to use their own non-Latin scripts in existing gTLDs.
I was beating my head against my desk during this exchange:
[After Stark finished explaining that she thinks IDN gTLDs are a good idea]
Watt: So, you think other languages. And that can’t be done in the .com, .net lingo as well?
Stark: Not today. Not the way the system is currently.
Watt: Yeah, well, not the way it’s done today, but what’s the difference? You all keep talking about innovation. Changing somebody’s name is not innovation. Allowing somebody to use a different name is not innovation. That’s not adding anything new to life that I can tell. Mr DelBianco, Mr Metalitz, help me here.
DelBianco: You’re right, just adding a new label to an existing page or content doesn’t really truly create innovation. However, 56% of the planet cannot even type in the domain name…
Watt [interrupting]: That’s not a function of whether you call something “Steve” or whether you call it “net” is it? You can put the Steve in front of the net, or you can put it dot-net, dot-Steve, dot-Watt, Steve, Steven…. you haven’t really created anything new have you?
DelBianco: You haven’t there, but 56% of our planet can’t use our alphabet when they read and write…
Watt [interrupting]: Tell me how this is going to make that better as opposed to what we have right now.
DelBianco: For the first time an Arabic user could type an entire email address in all Arabic, or a web site address in all Arabic.
Watt [interrupting]: Why can’t the current system evolve to do that without new gTLDs?
To Watt’s credit, he did put the witnesses on the spot by asking if any of them were opposed to new gTLDs (none were), but by the time his five minutes were up he was in serious danger of looking like a stereotypically insular American politician.
5. New TLDs are like T-shirts (or something)
Almost everything the NetChoice Coalition’s Steve DelBianco said, whether you agree with his positions or not, was sensible.
But when he started producing props from under the table, including one of the bright yellow custom “TLD-shirts” that AusRegistry International has been printing at recent ICANN meetings, I was giggling too hard to follow his train of thought.
Apparently the new TLDs program is like a T-shirt printing machine because, well… a T-shirt printing machine is more complicated than a label maker, which was the visual simile DelBianco used last time he appeared before the Subcommittee.
It was fun to see Congressmen treated like five-year-old kids for a minute. God knows some of them deserved it.
6. New TLDs will cost Fox $12 million
Stark stated that Fox has about 300 trademarks that it will need to enforce in new TLDs. Given ICANN has predicted 400 new TLDs, and estimating $100 per defensive registration, she “conservatively” estimated that Fox will have to pay $12 million to protects its marks in the first round.
The same ICANN study that estimated 400 applications being filed in the first round also estimated that as many as 200 of them are likely to be “.brand” TLDs in which Fox will not qualify to register.
A substantial proportion of applications are also likely to have a “community” designation and a restricted registrant policy that, in many cases, will also exclude Fox.
Not even World Trademark Review was convinced.
7. China is going to take over the internets
The Subcommittee spent far too much time talking around this meme before deciding that China is a sovereign nation that can do pretty much whatever it wants within its own borders and that there’s nothing much a House committee can do about it.
8. Literally everything that came out of Rep. Issa’s mouth
Former car alarm entrepreneur Darrell Issa talked confidently, as if he was the guy on the committee with the geek credentials, but pretty much everything he said was witless, impenetrable waffle.
He started with the premise that it costs a “fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a penny” to route traffic to an IPv6 address (why this is relevant, he didn’t say), then asked:
Why, when I go to Go Daddy, do I have to pay between $10 and $10,000 for a name and not from a tenth of a cent to 10 cents for a name?
Why in the world are there so many reserved [ie, registered] names? If I want a good name from Go Daddy… the good names, that I might want, have been already pre-grabbed and marketed in an upward way, higher. Why is it that they’re not driven down? Real competition would imply that those names are driven down to a penny for a user and prohibited from being camped on in order to resell.
Issa is a Republican, so I was quite surprised to hear him apparently advocate against the free market and the rule of supply and demand in this way, and with such a poor grasp of the economics.
Issa’s premise that it costs an imperceptible fraction of a cent to resolve a domain may be true, but only if you’re talking about a single resolution. VeriSign alone handles 57 billion such queries every day.
It adds up. And that’s just resolution, ignoring all the costs carried by the registries and registrars, such as payment processing, security, marketing, Whois (and, in the case of Issa’s domains, Whois privacy and accuracy enforcement), paying staff, rent, facilities, hardware, bandwidth…
Pritz told Issa as much, but he didn’t seem interested in the answer. He instead turned to CADNA’s Josh Bourne, to ask a meandering question that, after listening to it several times, I still don’t understand.
9. Rod Beckstrom gets paid millions
Rep. Maxine Waters was very concerned that ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has a salary of over $2 million, “guaranteed”.
She flashed up a copy of what I believe was probably Mike Berkens’ The Domains article about ICANN salaries, from early 2010, but she clearly hadn’t read beyond the headline.
Beckstrom’s salary is $750,000 per annum. He can (and does) get a bonus if he hits his undisclosed performance targets, but it still adds up to less than $1 million a year and pales in comparison to what he’s probably going to earn when he leaves ICANN.
As Berkens accurately reported, Beckstrom has a three-year contract, so he gets a minimum of $2.2 million in total over the period he’s employed as ICANN’s CEO.
People can (and do, continually) question whether he’s earning his money, particularly when he does things like not turning up to Congressional hearings, but his salary is not set at anywhere near the level the Subcommitee heard.
10. This is so important we need more hearings (btw, sorry I’m late)
Several Congressmen called for further hearings on new gTLDs. They’re shocked, shocked, that ICANN is considering doing such a thing.
Some of those calling for further scrutiny weren’t even in the room for much of the hearing, yet saw fit to decree that the subject was so important that they needed more time to investigate.
Whether this turns out to be just more political theater remains to be seen.