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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.

Dyson confirmed for new gTLDs Senate hearing

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2011, Domain Policy

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.

While Dyson was pro-expansion a decade ago, voting in favor of .info, .biz and others, she recently came out against the program in a widely syndicated op-ed and at a CADNA conference.

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.