Open letter to ICANN Board

June 8 2011


Mr. Rod Beckstrom

Chief Executive Officer

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

International Square 1

875 I (EYE) Street, NW, Suite 501

Washington DC, 20006


Mr. Peter Dengate-Thrush

Chairman, Board of Directors

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330

Marina del Rey, CA 90292


Mr. Kurt Pritz

Senior Vice President, Services

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330

Marina del Rey, CA 90292


Members of the ICANN Board of Directors

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330

Marina del Rey, CA 90292


Ladies and Gentlemen,

ICANN is on the cusp of an historic decision to fulfill its founding mandate to introduce choice and competition into the Internet naming system, and thereby make the Internet naming system truly accessible to all existing Internet users, and for those to come.

We forcefully urge the approval of the New gTLD Program and the beginning of the communications period at the June 20th 2011 meeting of the ICANN Board in Singapore.  We believe that the Board can make no other principled choice.

Key Considerations

The Board should approve the New gTLD Program, and simultaneously start the communications period, during its June 20, 2011 meeting.

We identify three broad areas that together encompass the issues facing the ICANN Board in its decision about starting the New gTLD Program.

If the ICANN Board can answer these questions affirmatively, we believe that it has a duty to vote to begin the New gTLD Program immediately.

1.  Process and Consensus. In accordance with the Affirmation of Commitments, ICANN must follow its commitment to a multi-stakeholder, private sector led, bottom-up policy development model. Therefore, the Board must ask itself these questions:

  • Did the new gTLD process follow a bottom-up, consensus-driven policy development model?
  • Was that process fair and transparent?
  • Were key stakeholders including governments listened to, and were their concerns adequately addressed within the limits of the broader community consensus?
  • Is the implementation of the policy feasible?

We believe that in all cases the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

2.  ICANN and Internet Governance. The Board must pay attention to the viability of ICANN as an institution. Apart from its fiduciary duties, the Board must recognize that for ICANN to function effectively as a venue for technical co-ordination and policy development, it must be seen as credible and trustworthy. It must follow its processes and adhere to its agreements. The questions for the Board here are:

  • Is the creation of a program to introduce new gTLDs part of ICANN’s mandate?
  • Is the introduction of choice and competition into the domain name space part of ICANN’s mandate?
  • Does the New gTLD Program facilitate the introduction of choice and competition into the domain name space?
  • Was the new gTLD process developed by the community-driven, multi-stakeholder process described in ICANN’s bylaws?
  • Is there a presumption that the ICANN Board will approve community-developed policy unless it finds serious flaws?
  • Is it true that consensus is defined as a rough agreement, even if not all of the concerns of a particular party have been assuaged?
  • Has the ICANN Board honored its promises under the Affirmation of Commitments to: ensure accountability, transparency and the interests of global internet users; preserving security, stability and resiliency; and promoting competition, consumer trust, and consumer choice?
  • Does ICANN’s credibility and effectiveness suffer if it is seen as thwarting a community-developed policy by delaying implementation?

We believe that in all cases the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

3. Benefits and Harms of New gTLDs. Even if the community-developed policy has achieved consensus, the ICANN Board may decide not to implement the policy if it finds flaws that are sufficiently worrisome. Therefore the Board must consider these questions:

  • Does the New gTLD Program help the security and stability of the Internet, or at least not harm it?
  • In cases where potential harms have been identified, does the New gTLD Program provide processes for addressing and/or mitigating such harms?
  • Has the Board taken expert advice in those areas where it required specialist knowledge?  In cases where a single result was deemed insufficient or potentially biased, did it seek further advice?

We believe that in all cases the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

We believe that each of these questions must be answered affirmatively. Even if only some of them could, there would be a very strong presumption that ICANN should approve the New gTLD Program. As it stands, there is no principled reason the ICANN Board can give for anything other than the approval the New gTLD Program, and the beginning of the communications period, at its June 20th 2011 meeting. Any other course of action undermines ICANN’s mandate, its commitments, its bylaws and its principles.

In addition to this overall observation, we would like to summarize some key points to help the Board move to a decision to approve the New gTLD Program.

Process and Consensus

GAC Advice Has Been Considered. For the most part, the Board has instructed the staff to make changes to the Applicant Guidebook according to GAC Advice. In those few cases where the Board has indicated that it is unable to accept GAC Advice, there are sound policy reasons for doing so, and the Board has communicated, or will communicate, its reasoning to the GAC. ICANN’s establishment of the GAC as an Advisory Committee, and the Board’s consideration of GAC Advice, does not mean following the GAC’s wishes on all occasions.

The Applicant Guidebook is Ready. After seven iterations, and years of debate, the most recent version of the Applicant Guidebook details a transparent, fair and sensible method for applying for and allocating TLDs.

Appendix 1, at the end of this letter, shows the extremely long and painstaking policy process that has resulted in the current version of the Applicant Guidebook. While the sheer volume of the Appendix is startling, we should remember that ICANN was created in the aftermath of an even earlier attempt to create new gTLDs that was aborted by the NTIA during the Clinton administration. Perfection is not a human trait, and any human endeavor reaches a point where it is ready enough – and we have reached that point with the current Applicant Guidebook.

Requirements Can Be Changed. Policy development is not static. The rules under which new domain names are sold and managed in existing gTLDs have changed numerous times, sometimes dramatically. The ICANN policy process will continue to operate after the Applicant Guidebook is approved and this will almost assuredly alter and amend portions of the new gTLD process, as well as the responsibilities and obligations of new gTLD registries.

Introduction of New gTLDs Will Be Deliberate. The introduction of new gTLDs to the root will occur over an 8 to 24-month period. This will allow time to understand and make any changes to the delegation phase to assure that everything goes smoothly. We would like to emphasize that the application, contract, and delegation phases are independent, and that the GAC principles of March 2007 recognize these steps as different and independent. The long time frame and staggered roll-out for the delegation phase is in keeping with the caution and safety that characterizes the entire new gTLD process.

Benefits and Harms

New gTLDs Will Benefit Consumers. Consumers will benefit from the increased protection from Internet crime, and the innovative choice, value, safety, and stability that new top-level domains will bring. Early in its existence, ICANN has benefited consumers by lowering prices on domain names, but consumer choice about which name, or which business model, or which language or character set, have been largely missing.

Consumer Protections Are Strong. Consumer protections are far stronger than those in existing gTLDs and ccTLDs. As new TLDs build market share these protections will reduce the overall incidence of trademark abuse and malicious activity. Approval of the New gTLD Program will inevitably bring these stronger protections into existing gTLDs as well.

New gTLDs Will Create Jobs. A neglected aspect of the myriad economic studies that ICANN has undertaken is the direct positive effect created by an Internet registry. Recently, however, a thorough study was commissioned by the Austrian ccTLD, .AT, which grew from about 160,000 domains in 2000 to more than one million domains by early 2011. The consistent success of the .AT registry prompted an investigation to analyze the economic effect of the registry in the local economy. The results show local domains make a significant contribution to generating economic growth, and play a key role in the development of the local Internet.

“In 2009 every .at domain generated economic value added of EUR 14.89. This calculation is made on the basis of a direct economic impact of EUR 7.72 per .at domain, intermediate consumption and investments totaling EUR 2.58, and a real income effect of EUR 4.59.” (1)

The chart below shows the effect of a TLD registry compared to other industries.













In U.S. dollars, for every domain that was registered, approximately $21 was added to the local economy. The study further revealed that the existence of the .AT registry “induces an economic impact of 13.5 million Euro per year” (US$ 19 million). Administrative activities alone generated 4.3 million Euro (US$ 6 million) for the local economy.

In addition to the revenue created, the .AT domain also creates jobs at a rate far exceeding other local industries – for every job added at the registry, another 3.8 jobs were added to the local economy.

Brand Owners Will Benefit from New gTLDs. While it seems like a lot to take on, it’s all very manageable. – Paul McGrady, Greenberg Traurig.

There is no question that there are costs for brand owners attendant on the introduction of new gTLDs, and these costs have been well-rehearsed in various ICANN fora. Benefits to brands have rarely been discussed – but they are very real.

When brand development takes place under .COM or Facebook, the brand owner is subject to availability, someone else's policies and business rules, and to arbitrary take-down. When a brand owns its own brand TLD, they are at the tiller of their own vessel, rather than being a passenger along for the ride. Any brand development that takes place under that company's TLD will be more predictable, secure and stable than anywhere else on the Internet.

New TLDs will change end user and search engine behavior. Google and other search engines will soon recognize brand TLDs as authoritative for that brand, and rank the brand TLD higher in search rankings than they will a search result in .COM or any other unrelated TLD – just as Google ranks results in the authoritative .EDU domain higher than .COM results. A company that wants search queries on its brand to return authoritative, high-ranking results will want to have their own TLD.

First-mover advantage is also a benefit to brands participating in this round of new TLDs. Any brand that applies for a new TLD during this round will be years ahead of their competition with regard to any innovation that comes as a result of the change in the gTLD landscape.

Additional benefits for brand owners:

  • Instant recognition and Internet visibility for web addresses and e-mail.
  • Increased deliverability of emails.
  • Decreased effect of cybersquatting. Even if a registrant cybersquats on a brand name in another gTLD, consumers will know not to trust web or email addresses that aren’t using the brand gTLD, and over time that will become a common behavior by consumers.
  • Complete control over the assignment of domain names.  When a brand owns its own TLD, it can limit delegation of second-level domains to trusted parties.
  • The option of linking brands and products to the delegation of domain names, increasing customer engagement, retention, and loyalty.

ICANN and Internet Governance

New gTLDs Will Improve ICANN’S Credibility. With approval of the New gTLD Program, more entities become involved in gTLDs, and ICANN will see a broader and richer level of participation in policy development. ICANN has suffered from lack of broad participation by international institutions, governments, the Silicon Valley and other entrepreneurial communities, developing world organizations, institutions, and companies – the list of groups that should have input into how the DNS is run, but have so far stayed away, is large. With the projected introduction of large numbers of new gTLDs, many of these groups will see their interest and begin participating. ICANN will become a bigger, more impactful, and more visible institution because of new gTLDs.

ICANN’s Independence and Credibility Are At Stake. ICANN’s credibility as an effective and independent institution, which is critical to the future not only of ICANN but Internet governance in general, is at risk. For years the Internet has waited for ICANN to fulfill its promise to introduce meaningful choice and competition into the top-level domain name space. ICANN has spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours to honor its commitments to be transparent, accountable, and democratic, and to honor its mandate of bottom-up policy development. The U.S. Government (among others) has been vocal in its insistence that ICANN follow this mandate. And yet for all these incremental improvements, the overall goal, to increase choice and competition, has not been fulfilled. ICANN should respect and follow its own policy development rules. This process now requires a vote on by the ICANN Board on the New gTLD Program.

ICANN’s Relevance Is At Risk. Consumer demand for new namespaces is strong, as evidenced by the massive uptake for .CO, whose registrations surpassed one million in less than a year, and .RF (Cyrillic) in Russia, which has achieved similar numbers. Years of restricted supply of good names in gTLDs from ICANN has shifted demand away from gTLDs to new addressing spaces such as alternate roots, re-purposed ccTLDs and proprietary social networks such as Facebook. Consumers have been diverted to addressing spaces that are beyond ICANN’s purview, and are without the protections built into new gTLDs.  Without new gTLDs large groups of users – linguistic, political, or ethnic – could reject the ICANN community model and set up alternate addressing spaces to meet their needs.

If governments, brands, and especially the ICANN Board want to make sure that Internet governance is something that can actually be an agreement between different stakeholders, instead of a purely market-driven set of innovations happening on a fragmented, company-by-company basis, then the DNS has to remain relevant to Internet users. Unfortunately, the myriad delays to the New gTLD Program are robbing ICANN of its relevance and credibility.


ICANN has no principled course of action except to vote to approve the New gTLD Program at its June 20th 2011 meeting; to require the immediate start of the communications period; and to announce that ICANN will begin accepting applications for new gTLDs in the fall of 2011. We urge ICANN to fulfill its mandate, abide by its bylaws, adhere to its principles, and ensure its credibility and relevance.





Appendix 1: New gTLD Process Timeline

click for timeline page 1 (1998-2000)

click for timeline page 2 (2001-2003)

click for timeline page 3 (2004-2007)

click for timeline page 4 (2008-March 2009)

click for timeline page 5 (April 2009-October 2009)

click for timeline page 6 (November 2009-July 2010)

click for timeline page 7 (October 2010-June 2011)

(links open in new windows)


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