It is difficult to know what impact, if any, the hearing held earlier this week in front of the Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet sub-committee of US House of Representatives, will have on the expected approval of new TLDs at next month’s ICANN Meeting in Singapore.
ICANN’s New TLDs under Attack?
ICANN and its staff faced harsh questioning during most of the session—and the atmosphere seemed to hinder progress for proponents of new TLD program. While Kurt Pritz, ICANN’s SR Vice President of Stakeholder Relations, testified in favor of the benefits of new TLDs, he was vastly outnumbered by representatives from the Intellectual Property and Internet User communities who testified to the potential negative impacts. If the hearing accomplished anything it may be to slow down the introduction of new TLDs, generating more discussion and debate and possibly delaying a final decision.
Does Congress Understand the Issues?
It seemed as though subcommittee members were scattered in their questioning and often went off topic. Their stated primary objective was to understand the validity of new TLDs and how the rights of trademark holders can be protected. But the questions from the sub-committee covered topics such as: (1) justification for new TLD application fees; (2) the cost of domain registrations; (3) the secondary domain market; (3) China’s increased control over the Internet; (4) ICANN staff salary; and (5) a planned ICANN “New TLD approval Party.” Clearly not all relevant. When they were able to stay on topic, however, the discussions did traverse demand for new TLDs, increased consumer choice and business opportunities that new TLDs would create—so perhaps not all was lost.
What is the US Government’s Role in ICANN?
The US Department of Commerce has an oversight role in ICANN, but as part of a 2006 agreement, ICANN has been steadily moving towards becoming an independent organization. The US Government has membership in the Government Advisory Committee (GAC), but as a single member of this stakeholder group, how much power does the United States have? It is unclear how much Congress can further influence the new TLD process—primarily because the question “to whom does ICANN answer?” is unanswered.
The next three months are likely to define the future of new TLDs. And we should expect answers to important questions. Will ICANN try to appease the US Congress or will they march ahead with the new TLD approval without US government support? What will be the US Government’s response? Stayed tuned as the drama around new TLDs continues to unfold.
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