ICANN Urged in Senate Hearings to Slow Down Internet Domain Name Expansion


With ICANN’s opening of the application period for new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) one month away, attention is being paid in Washington, D.C. with two hearings this week, or, as Domain Name Wire wrote, “Get ready for representatives to pretend like they know about domain names.”

This morning’s U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing aimed to “examine the merits and implications of this new program and ICANN’s continuing efforts to address concerns raised by the internet community.”

In an piece titled “ICANN opens pepper-spray, fires in own face,” Kieren McCarthy, CEO at .Nxt, Inc., who believes the hearing’s witness list “is stacked against the program,” wrote:

“Having spent seven years putting together plans for the greatest expansion of the Internet, and with applications for potentially thousands of new extensions due to open in just over a month, ICANN should be riding high. Instead it is the focus of not one but two Senate hearings this month and a huge campaign that includes giants such as Procter & Gamble, Hewlett Packard, JC Penny, Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg’s to get ICANN to either delay or restructure the program.”[more]

ICANN SVP Kurt Pritz defended the gTLD initiative as containing “significant protections beyond those that exist in current TLDs,” including “trademark protections such as mandatory sunrise and Trademark Claims processes; quick suspension of infringing domain names; and trademark clearing house and “post-delegation dispute procedure.”

Pritz also addressed measures to mitigate ‘malicious content’ including criminal background checks on applicants, required DNSSec implementation, and a single point of contact for abuse complaints.

As to growing opposition to his organization’s plan, Pritz said, “ICANN has noted the PR campaign driven by industry groups against the new gTLD Program, and the revisionist history they present. They are now forum shopping and asking Congress to give them another bite at the apple.

“After working for years within ICANN’s multi-stakeholder framework to obtain significant concessions for intellectual property rights holders, they now seek to upset the carefully crafted compromise which they helped create.”

Dan Jaffe, EVP, Government Relations, Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and representing The Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO), testified that the new TLD program is a “reckless experiment” that would seriously threaten both businesses and consumers in the online marketplace.

Jaffe told brandchannel he thinks the hearing went very well. “It was really important for the Committee to hear. There are former Attorneys General on it who understand the cyber clime and concerns about a roll-out without proper protections. Chairman (Jay) Rockefeller said he’d like to see it go out slowly.”

Angela Williams, SVP and General Counsel for YMCA US, was one of the brands concerned about the new top-level domains. “It will pose severe hardship and burden, increase the risk of fraud, cybersquatting, and trademark infringement,” she testified. “We cannot afford this expense to protect our name and goodwill.”

Jaffe commented, “Now the not-for-profits, 1.5 million in the U.S. alone, are coming forward saying it’s a problem. We’ve established a broad and deep coalition of concern.”

As to what ICANN might have done differently, “Roll out a small pilot to check and check and check what’s working and what’s not instead of a jump from 22 domain names to 1,000 or more. 22 is not an ordained number, but such a leap is extraordinary. It’s become controversial instead of consensual.”

“We’d like to see ICANN delay the roll-out, do more analysis and reach a wider consensus,” Jaffe added. “Due diligence is required. This is the biggest sea-change in the Internet in the last 15 years, when netizens then challenged any marketing activities on the Internet at all.”

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee seemed to agree, advising ICANN to slow down the process, pointing out that security recommendations made by the FBI are still being reviewed by ICANN. “Congress may not be able to stop this, but there are some concerns with this process worth listening to,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Wash., stated, as quoted by Adweek.

“These are very important issues, and it doesn’t make sense you have a Jan. 12 rollout. It is very challenging for law enforcement. You’re not even sure how many TLDs you will have at the end of the day when this opens, increasing the TLDS from 22 to maybe 1,000. That will be a huge challenge for law enforcement. We need to make sure we don’t rush into this,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

In a dissenting voice, FairWinds Partners’ Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, CADNA, issued a statement saying, “we were disappointed to see that much of the discussion circled around criticism of the Program, as well as requests to stop its progression, because it is clearly too late to stop it. The opportune time for that discussion was prior to the Program’s approval on June 20.”

CADNA President and FairWinds managing partner Josh Bourne commented, “We remain committed to finding workable and attainable solutions to improve the New gTLD Program for businesses. We as the Internet community need to stop complaining about a policy that was approved six months ago after years of deliberation. Our responsibility now, as stakeholders, is to figure out constructive ways improve this Program while we still can.”

ICANN founding chairman Esther Dyson (who occupied that position from 1998-2000) has been critical of the new gTLD program. She appeared as a representative the ANA’s CRIDO lobby against gTLDs, and stated: “Creating a whole set of redundant names isn’t useful. This whole idea is fundamentally misguided. I hope ICANN will go back and reconsider.”

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz testified before the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet earlier this week, expressing concern that the rollout has “the potential to be a disaster for consumers and for businesses,” and questioning ICANN’s ability to ensure accuracy and businesses’ need to defensively register all their names as burdensome to business and costly.

Jaffe commented, referring to Leibowitz’ comments, “When the Chairman of the chief consumer protection agency in the U.S. labels the program a ‘disaster,’ that should be a clear signal to everyone that this program should be delayed.”

As Adweek points out, “Ultimately, though, Congress has no power over ICANN. And so far ICANN has shown no indication that it will delay implementation of the new TLDs. ‘The board is concerned with launching this process in a very competent way,’ Pritz said. ‘But I’m sure they were listening to the hearing.'”

The next step: December 14th, when the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing entitled, “ICANN’s Top-Level Domain Name Program.”


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