Over the objections of advertisers and a number of lawmakers and regulators, the organization in charge of the Internet domain system will begin the process this Thursday of accepting applications for new top-level domain names (think dot Coke or dot bank), adding perhaps hundreds to the 22 that currently exist. Ahead of the controversial launch, Rod Beckstrom, Icann's president, and Jamie Hedlund, Icann's vp of government affairs, spoke with Adweek about why the plan will be good for the Internet, trademark and brand owners, and the consumer.
Adweek: Washington has been sending Icann a clear message that the TLD plan could lead to unintended consequences and should be slowed down or phased in. Even though Washington has no jurisdiction over Icann, what is your response?
Beckstrom: The U.S. government has a formal seat on Icann's Government Advisory Committee, so it has always been involved in Icann's policy development process. We appreciate all the recent letters, and we'll be providing responses to each one. The intellectual property community has been very involved in the policy process too, and almost all their suggestions have been implemented. So it's odd. The Internet is used by a lot of different people, and we have a multistakeholder community model. Oftentimes, different stakeholders have different financial interests. [Advertisers] have already lobbied for changes in the program, and they'd like to see more. This program has been under development for six years. It's well shaped. The decision was made to move ahead. It's my job to execute on it, and we will.
Are you taking up any of the suggestions made by the Department of Commerce, the Federal Trade Commission or lawmakers? What about cyber security and cyber squatting issues?
Beckstrom: This program has higher security safeguards than any other program. It's a higher bar than Icann has had in the past. New protections include the right for any party to complain. After we close the application window in early May, we will publish all the applicants and [TLD] names, and everyone has the right to complain. Then for seven months any party can file an objection, including on intellectual property grounds. An independent panel of three experts will make a decision to determine if a party has the right to the TLD or not. That's before a new TLD has been created. Once a TLD has been created, there will be sunrise registration rights. We're also creating a trademark clearinghouse, and that will allow [companies] to record all their trademarks. They will be notified anytime anyone in the world tries to register those trademarks. Those that register will be notified in 21 days. We're also doing criminal background and cyber abuse checks on applicants. Even with all those mechanisms, if there is a registered TLD operator that isn't respecting the guidelines, we can take back that registry. Icann has never had that right before.
So why, with all the mechanisms and protections you've outlined, do trademark and brand owners feel Icann has ignored their concerns and threatened their trademarks and brand integrity with this new plan?
Hedlund: It's not unlike controversial legislation that gets passed in Congress. Even though there is support, there is a minority that is not happy but is the most vocal. There is a constituency of the Congress that is unhappy. We've answered as best we can with information. We can speculate as to why other interests are not happy and why they want multiple bites of the apple. But they haven't raised any new issues.
Instead of fighting the plan, how should advertisers and trademark owners think about the new TLD plan?
Beckstrom: It is important to look at both risks and rewards. There has been a lot of talk about cost of registration [$185,000] and defensive registrations. Advertisers should think of the opportunities and how it could improve their relationship with customers. We're not registering typos in any TLD category; it has to be a legitimate party. Advertisers may find this allows a higher quality and more direct relationship with customers. Our best efforts have been made to provide mechanisms to protect rights holders. The trademark clearinghouse is a real breakthrough.
Just how big a change is this new plan to add hundreds of new gTLDs (generic top-level domain) names to the Internet? What do you expect?
Beckstrom: We could get several hundred applications or as many as 4,000. We really don't know; we're moving into new territory. This is the largest opening in the history of the domain name system. It's also the most international opening; previous rounds did not allow international domain names. It's by far the most complex program. We think the net benefit will be a secure and stable Internet domain name system that will continue to expand and support the growth of the Internet and allow innovation. Because the Internet has advanced so much and given the heightened level of awareness in part due to the controversy over this new plan, we think it will draw some new participants into the domain name system.