2014-06-06

Is It ICANN's Job To Market New gTLD Domain Names?

Has ICANN been conflicted, co-opted, and corrupted by its new gTLD domain names program? Is ICANN now, in effect, a joint venture partner with new gTLD registries and registrars -- "Pay us (ICANN) $185,000 up front (plus renewal fees) and we (ICANN) will help YOU market your new gTLD domain names that WE have authorized YOU to register (sell) for a PROFIT?"

"conflict" - an incompatibility between two or more purposes, principles, or interests
"co-opt" - divert to or use in a role different from the usual or original one
"corrupt" - change or debase by making alterations

"Marketing" - "Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service." (source: Wikipedia)

"New gTLDs" - New generic Top-Level Domain Names authorized by ICANN to be offered for registration [sold] by Registries and Registrars.

Recently a domainer blogger asked: Who is responsible for new gTLD marketing? The answers from members of the domain name industry (registrars, registries, affiliated companies) included:

"... ICANN, the registries... registrars..."

"... I think the “we” here is primarily Registries, Registrars, the DNA [Domain Name Association] and ICANN..."

"Now that new gTLDs are here, I’ve heard people suggest that ICANN, the registries, and the registrars should be responsible for marketing them. This is a correct suggestion."

Really? Is marketing new gTLD domain names what ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, "a nonprofit corporation that coordinates the Internet's global domain name system" [Wikipedia] is supposed to be doing? Is marketing new gTLD domain names within ICANN's purpose or mission as expressed within its articles of incorporation, bylaws, affirmation of commitments, or applicable California or federal (US) law?

Not only is "marketing domain names" NOT within ICANN's purpose and mission, but to do such "marketing" for for-profit companies appears to be a violation of the ICANN corporate instruments and applicable state and federal laws, for example:
Exemption Requirements - 501(c)(3) Organizations: "... The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization's net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. If the organization engages in an excess benefit transaction with a person having substantial influence over the organization, an excise tax may be imposed on the person and any organization managers agreeing to the transaction. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct...."
Some might argue that ICANN has already violated one or more of the legal provisions cited above, but at a minimum, the world of ICANN has become so dysfunctional that some ICANN insiders -- registries, registrars, and other for-profit domain industry members -- actually believe ICANN is supposed  to do the "marketing" of the new gTLD domain names for them-- for the registries and registrars which were authorized by ICANN to offer said new gTLD domain names for registration!

Somehow, in the world of ICANN, the interests of the regulated (registries and registrars) and the regulator (ICANN) have become one, at least in the minds of many. Is this what happens when a non-profit corporation, lacking proper oversight, transparency and accountability, becomes dominated by insiders and the special interests of the commercial, for-profit domain name industry it is supposed to be regulating and governing; when ICANN's Chief Strategy Officer (and architect of the new gTLDs program) resigns due to a conflict of interest (the particulars of which were never disclosed to the global multistakeholder community), and then becomes the Executive Director of the Domain Name Association, a lobbying group of that same for-profit domain name industry?

Is this why that same Domain Name Association has now jumped into the middle of ICANN's new gTLD auction process, to grab the money for itself and "marketing?"-- Domain Name Association: "The proceeds will be distributed as follows: First: Fees for the auction provider will be paid. Second: Disbursements, if any, will be made to auction participants. Third: Optional membership fees in the DNA will be paid. All remaining proceeds will go to the DNA. The auction winner will determine how those proceeds are allocated between funding TLD marketing and awareness campaigns and funding other DNA industry development efforts."

Sounds like ICANN should just shut down and turn everything over to DNA -- the Domain Name Association! Or more likely, ICANN will just contract with the DNA to perform all of ICANN's functions! 

I think it is now clear why the public interest was so disregarded in ICANN's new gTLDs program--

“'The public at large, consumers and businesses, would be better served by no expansion or less expansion' of domains" said Jon Leibowitz, former chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission in the New York Times."

"I really can’t see a legitimate upside where new benefits [of the new gTLDS] outweigh costs, and everyone I mention this to feels the same way. People just shake their heads. It’s all about the money. They [ICANN] are creating these extensions because they can." University of Pennsylvania Wharton School marketing professor Peter Fader, co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative. (source: Knowledge@Wharton, emphasis added)

Esther Dyson On New Top-Level Domains: “There Are Huge Trademark Issues” | TechCrunch: "... we are not running out of domains. This is a “way for registries and registrars to make money,” says Dyson. She also points out that “there are huge trademark issues. I just think it is offensive... It will create a lot of litigation.”" [see: Esther Dyson Told ICANN new gTLDs were a mistake in 2011 (video)]

Tim Berners-Lee: "....when a decision is taken about a possible new top-level domain, ICANN's job is to work out, in a transparent and accountable manner, whether it is really in the best interest of the world as a whole, not just of those launching the new domain. It also means that ICANN's use of the funds should be spent in a beneficent way...."

Memo to ICANN: money spent on "marketing new gTLDs" is NOT a "beneficent way."





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