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New TLD Spotted - .FUD

Jim Prendergast

In politics, as in Internet policy, the most effective weapons are also the oldest. So when it came time for hard-line intellectual property advocates to make a desperate last stand against the new gTLD program, it came as no surprise they turned to the atomic bomb of rhetorical devices: FUD.

FUD stands for "fear, uncertainty and doubt" and it is the tool of last resort when change is coming and you want to stop it. The theory is simple: the human response to fear is to cling to what's familiar and oppose what's new. So if you can scare enough people about the potential effects of a new policy or law, you stand a pretty good chance of preventing it from ever going into effect.

The lobbying pros at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) know this, and have quickly assembled a FUD campaign that you have to admire, even if you oppose its goal. ANA is leading a now-global effort to petition the US Department of Commerce, and presumably Congress, to indefinitely delay ICANN's new gTLD program before the application window opens on January 12. While unstated, the obvious goal of the program is to permanently derail the new gTLD program
As someone who has built and implemented grassroots and public affairs campaigns for nearly 20 years, I can appreciate the skill behind ANA's rhetoric, but as a longtime participant in the ICANN process, I also know how hollow many of their claims are. Our collective job as advocates for ICANN's multi-stakeholder and consensus-based model is to separate the facts from the FUD.

The communications plan for ICANN's new gTLD program officially launched on June 20 in Singapore, where the ICANN Board of Directors voted to go forward with the program. We saw a multitude of stories around the globe reporting on the new program but after that initial crush of press, the coverage fell off a cliff, except, of course, when the ANA speaks out against the program. One could argue that the ANA has done more to raise the level of awareness of the new gTLD program among brands than anyone else.

As I mentioned, I give the ANA a lot of credit. They've gone from having virtually zero profile in the ICANN space to leading the national, and even worldwide, conversation about the new gTLD process. But they've cut a lot of factual corners to get there, and it falls to ICANN — not just the organization, but the community — to start pointing those out.

Here are some of the myths the ANA is spreading, and the facts that refute them:

Myth 1 – ICANN created the new gTLD program with little or no input from brand owners.

FACT: Intellectual property and business advocates have been heavily involved at every stage of the new gTLD process.

Members of ICANN's active and thoughtful Intellectual Property and Business Constituencies should be offended by the ANA claims. Throughout the entire process, both of these organizations, as well as numerous other organizations and individuals have been vocal participants in providing feedback on the Applicant Guidebook. Several individuals invested considerable personal time by serving on ICANN's Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT), which developed a set of trademark protection recommendation for the new program. While not everything that the IRT recommended made it into the guidebook, much of it did. There are now more trademark protections for this new round of gTLDs then there are in the existing gTLDs or any of the 225+ ccTLDs. In addition, the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) also took up many of the issues raised by the ANA during the Consultations with the ICANN Board in Brussels and San Francisco.

Myth 2 – The new gTLD program provides no real benefit other than to line ICANN's pockets.

FACT: The new gTLD program will massively expand the reach and effectiveness of the Internet, especially to billions of users of non-Latin-based scripts.

Throughout the entirety of the Internet age, people who speak languages that rely on non-Latin-based scripts (Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, etc.) have been forced to work around the fact that the Domain Name System only took Latin-based ASCII inputs. For those people, the new gTLD program represents a massive step forward in Internet access and functionality. For someone in China, that means instead of having to shift their keyboard into ASCII mode and type www.icoke.cn, a combination of characters which probably means very little to them, they could have the opportunity to type that address in their own Chinese characters. Think of all the ANA members who are currently marketing in China, Russia and in the Arab world - being able to go that local by using native languages in the domain name is a benefit to those brands and the consumers they are trying to reach. And that's just the most obvious, immediate benefit of the program. With literally thousands of creative people turning their efforts toward innovating in the new gTLD space, there is no way to predict all the consumer benefits that will emerge.

To dispel the balance sheet myth, ICANN is a not-for-profit organization and will remain so. Any excess fees collected above and beyond ICANN's long-standing and community-approved cost-recovery model for implementing and managing the new gTLD program will not "line ICANN's pockets." The disposition of any excess fees and/or auction proceeds will be determined by the ICANN community through an open and transparent multi-stakeholder, bottoms-up consensus process.

Myth 3 – The program will cause a massive increase in cybersquatting.

FACT — The program contains more cybersquatting protections than have ever before existed in the domain name space, and provides extensive remedies for copyright owners who are harmed.

No cyber squatter is going to risk the application fee plus the objection fees to try and squat a brand's name at the top level. Even if it does happen, there are plenty of objection procedures in place to prevent someone other than Samsung to get a .samsung. As for the second levels we have over 250 gTLDs and ccTLDs in existence today. Do brands register domains in every TLD that is out there? Will they register them in every new TLD that is launched? Hardly, unless you think pampers.horse is a real threat. And while the UDRP has been a useful tool for companies who have been the victim of cybersquatting, the URS has been designed to be a faster, cheaper solution.

Myth 4 — The program will lead to widespread consumer confusion, which will lead to more fraud and frustration.

FACT — The new gTLD program won't change a thing about the basic functionality of the DNS or the location of the sites they know and love.

The ANA is really reaching on this point. With search and favorites and all the other tools that exist to help users navigate the Internet, there is no evidence to suggest that this program will cause even a single user a moment of confusion, much less the widespread panic that the ANA FUD portends. Indeed, we don't have to guess on this subject. Just 11 years ago, ICANN introduced seven new gTLDs at once, and somehow the consumer confusion (which was also predicted at the time) never emerged.

That ANA's FUD campaign has done some damage to the new gTLD process is unquestionable, but it has also created some real opportunity. They brought a lot more people into this conversation, and if we can counter their FUD with facts, we may find a lot more support for the new gTLD program.

By Jim Prendergast, President of The Galway Strategy Group. Some of his clients are considering or will be applying for new gTLDs, but the opinions expressed are his own.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains

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Comments

Myth 1 – ICANN created the new Paul Tattersfield  –  Nov 11, 2011 3:25 PM PDT

Myth 1 – ICANN created the new gTLD program with little or no input from brand owners.
FACT: Intellectual property and business advocates have been heavily involved at every stage of the new gTLD process.

A lot of IP advocates are from the legal profession. Putting in place legal protections doesn’t make the original proposal any more sensible it just tries to mitigate the possible damage.

Myth 2 – The new gTLD program provides no real benefit other than to line ICANN's pockets.
FACT: The new gTLD program will massively expand the reach and effectiveness of the Internet, especially to billions of users of non-Latin-based scripts.

Why doesn’t ICANN concentrate on where new gTLDs needed? Why didn’t ICANN consider categories? If the reach of Internet will be extended primarily by IDN new gTLDs why isn’t the first round allocated to providing IDN new gTLDs?

Myth 3 – The program will cause a massive increase in cybersquatting.
FACT — The program contains more cybersquatting protections than have ever before existed in the domain name space, and provides extensive remedies for copyright owners who are harmed.

The increased opportunities for cyber squatting are very real because more exact match or confusingly similar combinations will be available. Also, and certainly in the short term at least it is unlikely there will be a standard way of implementing new gTLDs and this will lead to a variety of subdomain.brand combinations which are not familiar to consumers and this will lead to far more opportunities for passing off.

The extensive remedies will almost certainly lead to abuses in the opposite direction where some “rights holders” especially those without underlying goods and services try to use process to secure IP property they would not normally be entitled to.

Myth 4 — The program will lead to widespread consumer confusion, which will lead to more fraud and frustration.
FACT — The new gTLD program won't change a thing about the basic functionality of the DNS or the location of the sites they know and love.

Fact 4 is incorrect. Allowing .brands will effectively create a super league for only some brands. If consumers come to perceive brands to the right of the dot as more trustworthy then ICANN will have managed to destroy the level playing field the existing Internet affords.

It is from this level playing field that much of the success of the Internet is derived.

The only fault I can find with Avri Doria  –  Nov 11, 2011 8:58 PM PDT

The only fault I can find with the article is that those who oppose change, rarely wait for the last stand before they begin to propagate FUD.  In fact they lay the groundwork for FUD from an early stage so that later they can claim it must be fact because people have been saying it for a long time.

.BOMB Alex Tajirian  –  Nov 12, 2011 11:51 PM PDT

Irrespective of whether I agree with the signal, why not call it .BOMB for "fear, uncertainty and doubt"?

Fantastic article Jim. ICANN should probably thank Constantine Roussos  –  Nov 12, 2011 6:18 PM PDT

Fantastic article Jim.

ICANN should probably thank ANA for the additional exposure they are creating for the program. This will backfire since their points hold no ground and are weak at best. ANA has never reached out to any applicants or even bothered to see the other side of the equation. Being one dimensional will ultimately hurt them. There are always two sides to every story. Just as you showcased one can drill holes in their biased assessments.

Perhaps the Department of Commerce should hear from the prospective applicants for a change and look at their plans for value creation. But unfortunately, I do not believe any TLD applicant has lobbyists in Washington DC or K Street to get any sort of traction. I am quite amused by ANA and those big corporates. Perhaps HP is bitter that they can not apply for .HP. Who is the chairman of ANA? Gary Elliot, who is a top executive at Hewlett Packard. Perhaps we should be discussing one of the real reasons why Gary Elliot dislikes the new TLD program: HP wants .HP and has zero chance at getting it. Gary Elliot wrote a highly critical article on Adage and lacked the kahunas to respond to any of his readers' comments including mine. Listening and responding is more powerful than a monologue based on weak assumptions.

Great article.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

Fantastic article Jim. ICANN should probably thank Naseem Javed  –  Nov 14, 2011 9:26 AM PDT

The question is what are they so afraid off and why are they avoiding a direct debate…

The so called violent opposition by ANA, Ester Dyson or Gary Elliot is more like dealing with paper tigers. The prerequisite to any serious discussion on this will always be authoritative understanding of gTLD and in-depth understanding of the global business naming complexities…they seem to rely on typed memos from law firms or their ad agencies… each was challenged and no one responded.

The made up fantasy & the ICANN GTLD reality
http://axcessnews.com/index.php/articles/show?id=22138

What is NOT in a domain name
http://www.pharmiweb.com/features/feature.asp?ROW_ID=1363

The ICANN gTLD Battlefield - The Fog of War http://www.circleid.com/posts/the_icann_gtld_battlefield_the_fog_of_war

But can or will they topple the applecart?

They are afraid to admit there are Constantine Roussos  –  Nov 14, 2011 3:57 PM PDT

They are afraid to admit there are two sides to every story. They might be listening but their actions indicate that their agenda is more important than having conversations that tackle the issues. On the flipside, there are many corporations missing from their list. That can be interpreted as a good sign.

Their goal is to block applicants from being successful in launching a new, differentiated TLDs. Just because ANA does not want TLDs, does it give them the right to block others that actually aiming at creating a value proposition through new TLDs. If ANA does not want new TLDs then they should not apply for them. Such a simple concept. Let the market dictate their success. Big corporations' basis for success is building innovative products that consumers want and to continually adapt to new technologies and user behavior. How are new TLDs different from that concept?

What they are doing is saying that because they do not want to use a product, no-one else is allowed to use it either. The Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight's website Crido.org is merely a redirect to ANA's website. ANA's move is dead. They can NOT respond to any criticism and they know that.

Looking forward to 2012 and getting this program up and running.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC / new gTLD / TLD registry management and consulting

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