ICANN should consider delaying the launch of its new top-level domains program, a number of US lawmakers said at a House of Representatives committee hearing today.
If the Senate’s hearing on new gTLDs last week could be characterized as a “win” for ICANN, today’s House meeting probably went in favor of its adversaries in the Association of National Advertisers.
“I don’t think it’s ready for prime time,” Rep. Anna Eshoo said during the Energy & Commerce Committee hearing. “I suggest that it is delayed until consensus is developed among relevant stakeholders.”
That’s exactly what the ANA and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight wanted to hear, and her views were echoed by several other Congresspeople, using similar language.
ICANN’s senior vice president Kurt Pritz, who was put forward to defend the new gTLD program in Washington DC for the second consecutive week, disagreed.
“This process has not been rushed, it’s been seven years in the making,” he said. “All the issues have been discussed and no new issues have been raised.”
National Telecommunications and Information Administration associate administrator Fiona Alexander, there to defend the ICANN process if not its results, observed that “consensus” does not necessarily always mean “unanimity”.
The hearing also heard from Josh Bourne of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, a long-time critic of ICANN and new gTLDs.
CADNA has recently taken a more pragmatic view of the program, coinciding with sister group Fairwinds Partners’ decision to emerge as a new gTLD consultancy.
Bourne therefore found himself not only defending the program but also praising .xxx, saying that its novel trademark protection mechanisms should be mandatory in new gTLDs.
CADNA’s main demand nowadays is for clarity into the dates of subsequent application rounds, which Bourne said would relieve the “condition of scarcity” that the uncertainty has created.
Bourne also said that Congress could fight fraud by revising the the 12-year-old US Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
Also on the panel as an opponent of the program was Anjali Hansen, an IP attorney with the Better Business Bureau, who came to complain about the cost of defending the “BBB” trademark.
Hansen’s testimony was essentially worthless. When she was not complaining about fraudsters infringing copyright on BBB’s logo (obviously irrelevant in the context of domains) she seemed to be claiming that the Better Business Bureau has exclusive rights to the string “BBB”.
As Pritz noted later, there are 50 registered trademarks for “BBB” – I’ve counted about 18 live ones in the US alone – and any one of those trademark owners would be able to object to .bbb.
There was also substantial confusion about the state of the program. Congressmen conflated separate controversies in order to support the view that new gTLDs should be delayed.
As I’ve noted before, there’s a worrying lack of detail on certain outstanding issues – such as continuity funding requirements – but Congressmen had evidently been fed different talking points and therefore peppered Pritz with questions about the state of ICANN’s negotiations to amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, an unrelated matter.
If two themes could be said to have emerged from the hearing, and last week’s Senate hearing, often expressed by the same Congressmen or witnesses, I’d say they were:
First, ICANN should make it harder for criminals to abuse new gTLDs.
Second, ICANN should make it cheaper and easier to obtain new gTLDs.
I would point out that a certain degree of doublethink is required to hold both positions true, but to do so would imply that the necessary singlethink had been done already.