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.
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.
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.
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.
The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has published the witness list for this Thursday’s hearing into ICANN’s new gTLD program.
Esther Dyson, the founding chair of ICANN’s board of directors and now a fierce critic of the organization, may turn out to cause the most fireworks.
Kurt Pritz, ICANN’s senior vice president of stakeholder relations and regular new gTLDs go-to guy, will return to Capitol Hill to defend the program.
(We’re likely to see some criticism of CEO Rod Beckstrom as a result of his absence, as we did following the House of Representatives hearing earlier this year, I imagine.)
Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, ICANN’s governmental overseer, has also been named as a witness.
Predictably, the Association of National Advertisers has a seat on the panel in the form of Dan Jaffe, its vice president of government relations.
The ANA and its newly formed Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight is believed to have brought about the hearing due to its anti-ICANN lobbying activities.
The witness with the wildcard credentials is Angela Williams, general counsel of the Young Men’s Christian Association of the United States of America.
The YMCA does not appear to have spent a great deal of time contributing to ICANN or the new gTLDs program.
It is however a member of ICANN’s new Not-for-Profit Organizations Constituency (NPOC), which is viewed by some (largely other non-commercial stakeholders) as a shill for intellectual property interests.
ICANN’s new nemesis is called CRIDO.
Eighty-seven companies and trade groups have formed the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, a lobby group set up to kill ICANN’s “deeply flawed” top-level domains program.
Its new domain, crido.org, is registered to the ANA’s PR firm and currently redirects to the ANA’s gTLD microsite.
The new group said in a press release today:
On behalf of its many constituencies and industries, CRIDO is committed to aggressively fighting ICANN’s proposed program, citing its deeply flawed justification, excessive cost and harm to brand owners, likelihood of predatory cyber harm to consumers and failure to act in the public interest, a core requirement of its commitment to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
If the ICANN program proceeds, CRIDO firmly believes, the loss of trust in Internet transactions will be substantial. In addition, the for profit and non-profit brand community will suffer from billions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures – money that could be better invested in product improvements, capital expenditures and job creation.
CRIDO’s members comprise 47 trade associations, most but not all American, and 40 companies, many of them major household names such as Coca-Cola, Burger King and Kellogg.
Together, they have signed a petition to the Department of Commerce, ICANN’s overseer in the US government, asking it put a halt to the new gTLDs program
The questions now are whether Commerce will do anything concrete to address the demands and, if not, whether CRIDO will decide to put its lawyers where its mouth is instead.
Here’s a handy table of all CRIDO’s members.
|AAF-Dallas||Adobe Systems Incorporated|
|AAF-Fort Worth||Allstate Insurance Company|
|AAF Hampton Roads||American Express|
|AdClub Cincinnati||Brinker International|
|American Advertising Federation (AAF)||Burger King Corporation|
|American Advertising Federation of Des Moines||The Coca-Cola Company|
|American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA)||Combe Incorporated|
|American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As)||ConAgra Foods|
|American Beverage Association (ABA)||Costco Wholesale Corporation|
|American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI)||Darden Restaurants, Inc.|
|American Health Care Association (AHCA)||Dell Inc.|
|American Insurance Association (AIA)||Dunkin Brands, Inc.|
|American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA)||Educational Testing Service (ETS)|
|American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)||Fidelity Investments|
|Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA)||Ford Motor Company|
|Association of National Advertisers (ANA)||General Electric Company|
|Austin Advertising Federation||Hack Creative|
|Boise Advertising Federation||Hewlett-Packard Company|
|Cable Advertising Bureau (CAB)||Hunter Douglas NA|
|Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)||J.C. Penney Company, Inc.|
|Direct Marketing Association (DMA)||Johnson & Johnson|
|European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA)||Kellogg Company|
|European Publishers Council (EPC)||La Quinta|
|Food Marketing Institute (FMI)||Liberty Mutual|
|Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)||MillerCoors|
|Idaho Advertising Federation||Money Mailer of Amarillo|
|Idaho Falls Advertising Federation||Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company|
|Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO)||Neon Sun Tanning Salon|
|Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)||Nestle USA|
|Lewis-Clark Valley Advertising Federation||OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC|
|Magic Valley Advertising Federation||Papa Johns|
|Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)||Procter & Gamble|
|MPA - the Association of Magazine Media||Publicis Groupe|
|National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)||Pulte Group|
|National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)||Samsung|
|National Confectioners Association (NCA)||US Bank|
|National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR)||Vanguard|
|National Restaurant Association (NRA)||Verge|
|Pocatello Advertising Federation|
|Promotion Marketing Association (PMA)|
|Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB)|
|Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)|
|Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB)|
|U.S. Chamber of Commerce|
|World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)|