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.
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