Twenty-eight domain name industry players have written to two influential US senators in support of ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.
Calling it “innovative and economically beneficial”, the letter takes issue with third-party claims that the program was “rushed”, pointing out that it took a long time and lots of people to develop.
Since the formation of the multi-stakeholder Internet governance, no process has been as inclusive, and no level of outreach has been as far-reaching as the one facilitating discussion of namespace expansion.
While new gTLDs will experience different levels of end-user adoption, we optimistically anticipate the useful possibilities for new services and applications from the namespace, the positive economic impact in the United States and globally, the inclusion of developing nations in Internet growth and development, and the realization of the hard work and preparation of the thousands of interested stakeholders dedicated not only to their own interests, but that of the global Internet.
The letter (pdf) was signed almost exclusively by registrars, registries, applicants and consultants; with one or two possible exceptions, all companies that stand to make money from new gTLDs.
It was sent to Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
That committee held a hearing into new gTLDs two weeks ago during which Rockefeller expressed cautious support for the concept, saying he was in favor of competition.
The letter is dated December 8, the day of the Senate hearing.
A similar hearing in the House of Representatives last week resulted in two Congressmen sending a letter (pdf) to the Department of Commerce requesting a delay to the program.
ICANN has not completely ruled out the possibility that its new generic top-level domains program will be delayed, according to senior vice president Kurt Pritz.
Pritz was asked during a meeting of the GNSO Council last week whether the recent Congressional hearings into new gTLDs could lead to a delay of the January 12 launch.
“I think the risk is above zero,” Pritz said.
An “above zero” risk of delay could still mean a very small risk, of course.
He went on to point out that “the reputation of the multi-stakeholder model is wrapped up in this too”, and that to delay would be a disservice to all the people who have worked on the program.
He noted that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration assistant secretary Larry Strickling has come out in strong support of the multi-stakeholder model.
While the NTIA does not plan to enforce a delay, ICANN itself could make the decision under political pressure from elsewhere in the US, such as from Congress or the Federal Trade Commission.
Pritz faced a rough ride during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last week, during which a number of Congressmen said they believed delay was appropriate.
The committee was largely concerned about the possible costs to trademark holders and implications for law enforcement agencies.
The hearing was called following lobbying by the Association of National Advertisers and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight.
ICANN’s cybersquatting rules, including the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy, will be reviewed and possibly reformed, but probably not until 2016 at the earliest.
The Generic Names Supporting Organization Council voted last Thursday to put the start of UDRP reform on hold until 18 months after the first new top-level domains go live.
The review will also take into account other cybersquatting policies including Uniform Rapid Suspension, which will be binding on all new gTLD registries but has yet to be be tested.
This is the relevant part of the resolution:
the GNSO Council requests a new Issue Report on the current state of all rights protection mechanisms implemented for both existing and new gTLDs, including but not limited to, the UDRP and URS, should be delivered to the GNSO Council by no later than eighteen (18) months following the delegation of the first new gTLD.
An Issue Report is compiled by ICANN staff and often leads to a Policy Development Process that creates policies binding on registries, registrars and ultimately registrants.
Because the first new gTLDs are not expected to be delegated until the first quarter of 2013 at the earliest, the Issue Report would not be delivered until half way through 2014.
After ICANN public comment and analysis, the GNSO Council would be unlikely to kick off a PDP until the first half of 2015. The PDP itself could take months or years to complete.
In short, if UDRP is going to be reformed, we’re unlikely to see the results until 2016.
Non-commercial users in the GNSO were most strongly in favor of an accelerated timetable, but a request to reduce the 18-month breather to a year failed to find support.
The Intellectual Property Constituency had proposed an amendment that would have kicked off the process after 100 UDRP and 100 URS cases had been heard in new gTLDs, rather than after a specified time, but the motion was defeated.
The US Federal Trade Commission has come out swinging against ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program, saying it will increase online fraud and should be scaled back.
In an open letter to ICANN’s top brass yesterday, the FTC’s four commissioners claimed that “the dramatic introduction of new gTLDs poses significant risks to consumers”.
Saying that more gTLDs will make it easier for scammers to acquire domain names confusingly similar to existing brands, the commissioners said the program should be rolled out as a limited pilot.
The FTC commissioners wrote (pdf):
A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters. In particular, the proliferation of existing scams, such as phishing, is likely to become a serious challenge given the infinite opportunities that scam artists will now have at their fingertips. Fraudsters will be able to register misspellings of businesses, including financial institutions, in each of the new gTLDs, create copycat websites, and obtain sensitive consumer data with relative ease before shutting down the site and launching a new one.
The letter demands better Whois accuracy enforcement, better ICANN compliance programs, and a cap on approved new gTLDs in the first round perhaps as low as a couple dozen.
The FTC’s claims that new gTLDs will increase phishing may not be supported by reality, however.
The latest data (pdf) from the Anti-Phishing Working Group shows that in the first half of the year only 18% of domain names used in phishing attacks were registered by the attacker.
That was down from 28% in the second half of 2010. Phishers are much more likely to compromise a domain belonging to somebody else – by hacking a web server, for example.
Of the 14,650 maliciously registered domains 10,444 (70%) were used to phish Chinese targets, “overwhelmingly” the e-commerce site Taobao.com, the APWG found.
Furthermore, only 2% of these domains – just 1,816 over six months – were judged to have been registered due to their confusing similarity with the brands they target.
The APWG said (emphasis in the original):
These are the lowest numbers we have observed in the last past four years, and show that using domain names containing brand strings has fallen further out of favor among phishers.
the domain name itself usually does not matter to phishers, and a domain name of any meaning, or no meaning at all, in any TLD, will usually do. Instead, phishers almost always place brand names in subdomains or subdirectories
The APWG found only one gTLD that ICANN has introduced – .info, with 4.5% – in its top ten phishing TLDs. The .com space accounts for 48.9% of all phishing domains.
Will the increase in the number of gTLDs reverse these trends? The FTC seems to think so, but the claims in its letter appear to be based largely on guesswork and fear rather than data.
I suspect that the FTC’s letter is more concerned with ICANN’s ongoing bilateral talks with registrars over law enforcement-demanded amendments to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.
These talks are completely separate and distinct from the new gTLDs program policies, but in the last few weeks we’ve seen them being repeatedly conflated by US lawmakers, and now the FTC.
This may be ignorance, but it could just as well be an attempt to apply political pressure on ICANN to make sure the RAA talks produce the results law enforcement agencies want to see.
ICANN does not want to be forced into an embarrassing retreat on its hard-fought gTLD expansion. By producing a strong RAA, it could deflect some of the concerns about the program.
Twenty-eight intergovernmental organizations, including the UN, ITU and WIPO, have asked ICANN for special protection for their acronyms in the new top-level domains program.
A letter sent to ICANN earlier this week and obtained by DI, reads:
we formally request ICANN to make provision for a targeted exclusion of third party registrations of the names and acronyms of IGOs both at the top and second level, at least during ICANN’s first application round and until further appropriate policy could be developed.
It goes on to claim that fighting abusive domain registrations and enforcing rights diverts funds from causes such as famine relief, scientific research and children’s rights.
For the sake of brevity, this is the list of the letter’s signatories in acronym form only: AfDB, EBRD, ESO, CERN, ESA, IADB, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, IMO, IMF, IOM, ITU, NIB, NATO, OECD, OPCW, UN, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WB, WHO, WIPO, WMO, UNWTO, and WTO.
The letter justifies its request by citing the rights given to IGO names under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.
It’s a pretty flimsy argument. The Paris convention does not give IGOs exclusive rights to strings. It may protect the World Bank abbreviation WB, for example, but not to the extent that Warner Brothers can’t also use it to market movies.
The letter also cites ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which called for IGOs to be protected in its March 2007 GAC Principles regarding New gTLDs advice.
The Principles, however, talk about IGOs in the same breath as regular trademark owners, which is exactly how the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook treats them today.
There is some ICANN precedent for giving in to this kind of special pleading, however.
The latest Guidebook makes several dozen trademarks relating to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Olympic movements “ineligible for delegation” as gTLDs, but offers them no second-level protection.
It was noted at the time the decision was made – at the behest of the GAC – that giving the Olympics special treatment would create a slippery slope to a full-blown Globally Protected Marks List, a concept ICANN has already rejected.
The UN et al only really have a shot at getting what they want if they can get the GAC on side, and several influential GAC members have already stated that the Olympic/Red Cross case was unique.
I think the response from ICANN will be a letter from president Rod Beckstrom politely declining the request and inviting its signatories to participate in the ICANN community.