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Carefully Constructed New gTLD Program Moves Forward

by Kurt Pritz | 13 December 2011

Senator Jay Rockefeller's introductory statement at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's hearing regarding ICANN's New gTLD Program on December 8, 2011 went right to the issue: "I think we have to get used to dot-hotels. I think we have to get used to dot-auto."

With that comment, the Chairman seemed to welcome the possibility of greater online innovation and competition. These are two core reasons for the existence of the new program that could potentially introduce hundreds of new top-level domains names into the global Internet.

Senator Rockefeller cautioned that expansion of the domain name system should be done slowly and carefully – and ICANN shares that view.

The other witnesses criticized the program but even if some of their criticisms sounded reasonable, those criticisms were dated and thoroughly addressed during the seven-year development of the program.

I gave the Committee a brief history of the new gTLD program and highlighted the seven years of thorough, transparent and inclusive discussion and debate, including: 2400 public comments from 47 extended comment periods that resulted in over 1400 pages of comment summary and analysis, formation of ten independent expert working groups, and 59 explanatory memoranda and independent reports.

Not only were the comments of my fellow witnesses received and considered during this time, their recommendations were largely adopted. A long and careful deliberative process produced this program. World-class experts on intellectual property, economics and Internet security developed solutions and those solutions were reviewed by the Internet community and vetted by governments.

I also explained that new gTLDs will have even greater safeguards than the TLD registries that exist today and will include enhanced protections for trademark holders. The new environment will sharply reduce the need for defensive registrations.

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kelly Ayotte expressed the need for engagement by law enforcement in this process and urged ICANN to work closely with law enforcement agencies to make the Internet environment more secure. I clearly stated ICANN's commitment to implement law enforcement recommendations wherever possible, as soon as possible.

I pointed to ICANN's past work in the development of consumer protections, the history of collaborating with the law enforcement community, and the ongoing, urgent negotiations with registrars to improve consumer protections in the contracts registrars sign with ICANN.

In response to their comments, I also confirmed ICANN's commitment to monitor the new gTLD process to ensure ongoing, smooth operation of the planned, time-phased delegation of new gTLDs. This commitment was easily made as it is something ICANN already takes very seriously and has embedded in its planning.

My sincere hope is that the facts I gave the Senate Commerce Committee last week, and will give the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on Wednesday, will help create greater understanding of this new era of online innovation, and bring some balance to the PR offensive launched by some parties.

As we move forward with the launch, it's worth bearing in mind where we have been and what is at stake. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling summarized this in his recent comments regarding the multistakeholder process that led to the approval of the New gTLD program: "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."