Congressmen ask for new gTLDs delay

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2011, Domain Policy

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.

ICANN leaves new gTLD batching and support questions hanging

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN came closer to answering two very important questions about the new top-level domains application process at its board meeting last Thursday.

While confirming that cheaper application fees will be made available to worthy applicants, and that some sort of batching system will be introduced, ICANN has provided worryingly few details about both systems, just a month before the new gTLD program starts.

Application batching

ICANN is currently expecting over 1,000 new gTLD applications, but it’s said that it only has the capacity to process 500 at a time. It needs a way to fairly create two or more batches.

Commercial applicants obviously want their gTLDs processed and delegated as quickly as possible, so how the batches are created is obviously a critical detail.

Little progress has been made on this issue since Dakar.

A lottery has been ruled out, according to Thursday’s board resolutions, because it would be likely to attract nuisance lawsuits under California gambling law.

If you’ve been following ICANN closely for the last few months, or reading DI, you already knew this.

The board has also said that there will be no benefit to applying early during the January-April application window. We already knew this too.

Instead, as ICANN staff have said before and the board has now approved, there will be a “secondary time stamp … used for purposes of determining the processing order”.

This system has evidently not been finalized yet. Nevertheless, the resolution contains a few hints about how it might work.

First, the TLD Application System will not be used to acquire the stamps, but it may be used to communicate [something] with applicants.

Acquiring a stamp will require “judgment” by applicants. Getting into the first batch will apparently be a skill game, so as to not invite lottery lawsuits.

There will also be some kind of regional allotment system, so that applicants from outside Europe and North America have just as good a chance of getting into the first batch.

Finally, there will be an opt-out mechanism, so applicants with less urgent applications (.brands, perhaps) can choose to be batched later.

It’s not much to go on, but since the process of acquiring a time stamp will not come into play until after April 12, it’s not something applicants need to worry too much about at the moment.

It’s also not yet clear whether positions in the queue will be transferable. A slot in the first batch could be worth something, to some applicants.

Applicant Support

A mechanism for granting reduced fees to “needy” applicants in the developing world has been on the cards for a while. ICANN set aside $2 million in June to fund an Applicant Support program.

On Thursday, its board of directors approved an application fee reduction from $185,000 to $47,000, for “candidates that qualify according to the established criteria”.

While full details of these criteria have not been revealed, the board resolution suggests that “demonstrating need and operating in the public benefit” are the primary factors.

It’s not clear any more that the support program will be limited to applicants in the developing world, as had been recommended by the Joint Applicant Support working group.

The resolution does not mention geography, and senior VP Kurt Pritz suggested at last week’s US Senate hearing into new gTLDs that the YMCA of the USA may qualify for the reduced fee.

It appears that applicants wanting to take advantage of the reduced fee will have to take a bit of risk, however, paying their $47,000 fee up-front on the understanding that they will lose their money and their application if they are subsequently deemed unworthy of support.

Applicants will not find out if they’ve made the cut until November 2012.

ICANN’s $2 million only covers reduced fees for 14 applicants, and it’s not yet clear what would happen if more than 14 candidates qualify and ICANN cannot find third-party funding to support them.

Essentially, it’s looking a bit messy at the moment, and non-profits are only a little closer to understanding what their funding requirements might be today than they were last week.

Beckstrom to keynote London new gTLDs conference

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom will address a half-day conference on new generic top-level domains in London next month, just a few days before ICANN’s application window opens.

The Top Level, scheduled for January 9, is being hosted by Norwegian registry services provder CloudNames, the PR agency Burson-Marsteller and international law firm DLA Piper.

Each company also has an executive speaking, and then there’s a panel discussion.

Although BM is on ICANN’s payroll, having been recently named the recipient of a $900,000 outreach budget, it appears that the conference is not an ICANN initiative.

Tickets for the five-hour event are being sold for €490, or €441 for “early bird” registrations.

It will be presumably one of the last conferences Beckstrom will keynote on his world tour before ICANN starts accepting new gTLD applications, January 12.

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.

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.