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US says it will not block the new gTLD program

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2011, Domain Policy

NTIA boss Larry Strickling has come out in support of ICANN and its new top-level domains program, warning that its opponents “provide ammunition” to authoritarian regimes.

Speaking in Washington DC yesterday, Strickling warned that organizations fighting to put a stop to the new gTLD program risk provoking a UN takeover of the internet.

In a strongly worded defense of the six-year-old ICANN multistakeholder process that created the program, he said:

we are now seeing parties that did not like the outcome of that multistakeholder process trying to collaterally attack the outcome and seek unilateral action by the U.S. government to overturn or delay the product of a six-year multistakeholder process that engaged folks from all over the world.

The multistakeholder process does not guarantee that everyone will be satisfied with the outcome. But it is critical to preserving the model of Internet governance that has been so successful to date that all parties respect and work through the process and accept the outcome once a decision is reached.

When parties ask us to overturn the outcomes of these processes, no matter how well-intentioned the request, they are providing “ammunition” to other countries who attempt to justify their unilateral actions to deny their citizens the free flow of information on the Internet.

This we will not do. There is too much at stake here.

Strickling is assistant secretary at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the US government’s relationship with ICANN and IANA.

He’s made similar remarks in support of the multistakeholder model in the past, but never quite as firmly or directly aimed at opponents of the new gTLD expansion.

While he was diplomatic enough not to single out any one group, he was pretty clearly referring to the recently formed Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight.

CRIDO was formed by the Association of National Advertisers to fight new gTLDs. Yesterday, it had its day on Capitol Hill, but failed to convince Senators that the program should be stopped.

But Strickling did sound a note of caution about new gTLDs, saying that he agreed with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who expressed concern about possible negative impacts of the expansion:

We agree with the Chairman’s concerns over how this program will be implemented and its potential negative effect if not implemented properly. We will closely monitor the execution of the program and are committed to working with stakeholders, including U.S. industry, to mitigate any unintended consequences.

But the minutiae of the Applicant Guidebook was not Strickling’s focus. Instead, it was the wider political picture.

The threat of an International Telecommunications Union takeover of the internet’s policy-making functions has plagued ICANN for almost as long as it has existed.

Strickling noted that the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications is coming up one year from now, and that some nations will attempt to usurp ICANN.

Some nations appear to prefer an Internet managed and controlled by nation-states.

We expect that some states will attempt to rewrite the regulation in a manner that would exclude the contributions of multistakeholder organizations and instead provide for heavy-handed governmental control of the Internet.

For the ANA and CRIDO, Strickling’s remarks are a huge setback.

The ANA has previously said that it planned to use all three branches of the US political system — lobbying Congress and the NTIA, or taking ICANN to court — to achieve its ends.

The Senate clearly wasn’t interested yesterday and the NTIA has now confirmed that it’s on ICANN’s side.

That leaves only one option.

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NRF director joins .shop applicant

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2011, Domain Registries

Commercial Connect, one of the companies planning to apply to ICANN for the new top-level domain .shop, has appointed a US National Retail Federation Foundation director to its board.

Richard Last is also chairman emeritus of Shop.org and has a long history in retail, according to a Commercial Connect press release.

The NRF has been one of the more outspoken critics of the new gTLD program recently. While the organization does not oppose it outright, it does believe the program needs to be delayed.

GMO Registry also intends to apply for .shop, and has arguably been the higher-profile of the two public applicants, going so far as to sponsor ICANN events under the .shop brand.

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Companies that both support and oppose new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2011, Domain Policy

NetChoice, which has spent the last few years publicly expressing a skeptical view of ICANN’s new top-level domains program, has today come out explicitly in its support.

“While not perfect, ICANN’s plan to expand the domain space is a critical step forward for the Internet,” NetChoice executive director Steve DelBianco said in a press release.

“Managed properly, the new gTLD program should increase competition, expand user choice, and make the Internet far more useful to hundreds of millions of users worldwide who read and write in alphabets other than Latin,” he said.

This puts a number of companies in the interesting situation of simultaneously opposing and supporting the new gTLDs program, at least if you track which associations they belong to.

Take eBay, for example.

eBay is a member of NetChoice, but it’s also a member of the anti-expansion Association of National Advertisers, according to the organizations’ respective web sites.

It’s also a member of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which opposes new gTLDs and is a founder member of the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, which was founded by the ANA and also opposes new gTLDs.

Yahoo, Expedia and Facebook are all members of the IAB, which opposes the expansion, and NetChoice, which doesn’t.

The Screen Actors Guild, which has openly opposed new gTLDs, is also inexplicably listed as a member of the Electronic Retailing Association, which in turn is a member of NetChoice.

News Corp is a member of NetChoice, which supports new gTLDs, while many of its Fox-branded subsidiaries are members of the IAB, which is a member of CRIDO, which opposes new gTLDs.

Intel is a member of the ANA, which opposes the program. It’s also a member of the Association of Competitive Technology, which is in turn a member of NetChoice, which supports it.

Very confusing, isn’t it?

Almost makes you think that, regardless of which side you’re on, hiding behind a coalition just makes your point of view seem less valid.

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Notes from the Senate new gTLDs hearing

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2011, Domain Policy

The US Senate’s Commerce Committee held a hearing into ICANN’s new generic top-level domain program today, following pressure from the Association of National Advertisers.

It must have been a busy day on Capitol Hill. Not only was the hearing delayed by 45 minutes, but when it did begin only four or five Senators showed up to speak.

Committee chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller put his head through the door just long enough to deliver a prepared statement, leaving Sen. Amy Klobuchar to lead the rest of the hearing.

It was a relatively subdued and hurried affair that heard for the most part some extremely well-worn arguments about the potential benefits and risks of new gTLDs.

Nevertheless, the hearing did generate a few headline moments. These are my first impressions.

Rockefeller in pro-gTLD shocker

Given that the hearing was called at the behest of ICANN’s critics, it was slightly surprising that the Committee’s chairman gave a generally pro-expansion statement.

Sen. Rockefeller said he was generally in favor of new gTLDs, believing them to be pro-competition and pro-innovation, but suggested that the roll-out should be slower and more cautious.

“I think we’ll have to get used to .hotel, I think we’ll have to get used to .auto,” he said.

“If ICANN is determined to move forward, it should do so slowly and cautiously,” he said. “The potential for fraud, consumer confusion, and cybersquatting is massive and argues for a phased in implementation. Scaling back the initial round of new top level domains introduced in 2013 may be a prudent approach.”

ICANN expects about 1,000 applications

Senior vice president Kurt Pritz gave the latest ICANN guesstimate about how many new gTLD applications it expects to receive in the first round.

That number is 500 to 1,000, maybe a little more but “not thousands”, he said, noting that the estimate was completely based on hearsay.

New ICANN conflict of interest rules

ICANN’s board of directors evidently voted to restrict their post-ICANN employment opportunities at the board meeting earlier today, if Pritz’s testimony is an accurate guide.

He said that directors will not be able to work for any new gTLD operator that they have voted to approve for 12 months after they leave ICANN.

Cheaper application fees for worthy applicants

Again scooping the publication of today’s ICANN board meeting resolutions, Pritz revealed that application fees are going to be reduced from $185,000 to $47,000 for needy applicants.

This suggests heavily that ICANN figured out a way to accommodate the recommendations of the Joint Applicant Support working group, which proposed a number of measures aimed at reducing the financial burden for applicants in developing nations.

There was no word from Pritz about which organizations or nations will be eligible for the reduction, however.

The ANA compares senators to Disney characters

At one point, the ANA’s Dan Jaffe wheeled out a slide bearing a picture of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, to illustrate the problem of inaccurate Whois information.

He was addressing Sen. Maria Cantwell and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, both of whom asked questions about fraud and both of whom use Whois privacy services on their official campaign web sites.

I found this immensely amusing.

Dyson speaks for the little guy (if he has a trademark)

Former ICANN chair Esther Dyson said in her opening testimony that she was the only person at the hearing there to represent public opinion, rather than that of big business.

She then went on to complain, with a straight face, about all the trademark enforcement headaches big business will have to deal with in a world of hundreds of new gTLDs.

She’s particularly miffed, as a director of a company called Meetup, that ICM Registry has reserved meetup.xxx as a premium domain name.

Meetup will probably sue whoever buys the name for trademark infringement, she indicated.

Way to stick it to The Man, Esther!

Wither IDNs?

Non-Latin-script gTLDs were not discussed in any depth during the hearing, meriting only one or two mentions.

That’s unusual, given that IDN gTLDs are the one benefit of the ICANN program that not even intellectual property interests have dared to argue against.

Next steps

The ANA and the YMCA want somebody to put a stop to the new gTLD program, or to at least delay it.

Dyson suggested that for the US to unilaterally intervene might be a bad idea, politically.

When asked whether the Department of Commerce would be able to stay ICANN’s hand, Commerce representative Fiona Alexander ducked the question.

With a handful of exceptions, nobody on the Senate committee seemed to care enough about the subject to show up and ask questions.

I think this probably counts as a win for the pro-expansion camp.

There is however another hearing, this time before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, next week. If recent history is any guide, we’re likely to be in for more of the same.

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London issues .london RFP through Olympic bid system

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2011, Domain Registries

London & Partners, the official promotional agency for London, has released a request for proposals for a registry to apply for and run .london as a new top-level domain.

Bidders will have to sign up for CompeteFor, an online procurement tool designed primarily for the London 2012 Olympics, in order to submit their proposals.

UK-based registries Nominet and CentralNic have already said they plan to respond to the RFP, but L&P says that it is open to companies anywhere, not only in the UK and EU.

The RFP is open until January 5 at noon GMT.

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