Home CEO Beckstrom to Leave ICANN in July Amid gTLD Controversy

CEO Beckstrom to Leave ICANN in July Amid gTLD Controversy

His vision was to internationalize the oversight body of the Internet naming system, to structure it less like a spider and more like a starfish. (A starfish, you see, can regrow lost limbs.) To some extent, the dashing security expert Rod Beckstrom has accomplished that as President and CEO of ICANN since mid-2009, most notably by removing the U.S. Dept. of Commerce from its direct oversight role over ICANN.

Come the end of his term next July, Beckstrom will leave the President and CEO role of ICANN, presumably to resume his career as a world-renowned security expert. But in the twilight period of his term he may have to fight at least two more significant battles, neither of which may conclude before his departure. First and foremost is ICANN’s adoption of a controversial generic top-level domain (gTLD) plan for the domain name system – one which would give any applicant with $185,000 to spare (PDF available here) a new root domain of its own alongside .com, .net, and .org.

The latest criticism of this plan came Monday from Randall Rothenberg, CEO and President of the Internet Advertising Bureau. The IAB represents some 500 leading media firms that represent as much as 86% of the ad buys in the United States.

“ICANN’s potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber,” Rothenberg said. “There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem. This could be disastrous for the media brand owners we represent and the brand owners with which they work. We hope that ICANN will reconsider both this ill-considered decision and the process by which it was reached.”

Rothenberg’s comments follow up on a letter sent earlier this month to Beckstrom by Robert Liodice, the President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which alleges the proposed gTLD system violates the world’s existing system of trademarks.

“Implementation of a program with unlimited TLDs is economically unsupportable and likely to cause irreparable harm and damage,” Liodice wrote. “At the same time, the program contravenes the legal rights of brand owners and jeopardizes the safety of consumers. By introducing confusion into the marketplace and increasing the likelihood of cybersquatting and other malicious conduct, the program diminishes the power of trademarks to serve as strong, accurate and reliable symbols of source and quality in the marketplace. Brand confusion, dilution, and other abuse also poses risks of cyber predator harms, consumer privacy violations, identity theft, and cyber security breaches.”

All that together might mean a fairly negative legacy for an outgoing ICANN chief. But in his response to Liodice a few days later, Beckstrom stated that Liodice had not done his homework, failing to account for strict guidelines for gTLD applicants (PDF available here) that were developed with the full cooperation of both major DNS stakeholders and the U.S. Government.

“Multiple public meetings and at least 45 lengthy public comment periods were conducted and thousands of comments, representing a broad range of interests, were received. Every comment submitted (including those submitted by the ANA) was read, summarized, posted for all to see, and factored into the decision-making process. The extent of this collaborative process, the responsiveness to public comment, and the volume of changes (across seven full drafts of the Applicant Guidebook) in response to stakeholder input are well documented…

“Your quotations from the economic studies are highly selective and lead to an unsupported conclusion that more domain names will lead to cyber security lapses or consumer privacy violations. Your claim of ‘enormous financial burdens’ and other broad statements are offered without supporting data or rationale. I invite you to review the entire set of economic studies, which explored the current marketplace, and applied expert analysis to an examination of the potential risks and benefits as far as possible (noting that the benefits of innovation are difficult to predict). As you point out, these studies recommended the implementation of additional protections against trademark abuse and malicious conduct. ICANN formed teams of internationally recognized experts to adopt both these recommendations and incorporate many significant new safeguards into the program.”

Beckstrom went on to respond to Liodice’s allegation that companies would be forced to shell out a six-digit figure to protect their trademark interests on the Web, by saying protections will be put in place to prevent any applicant from violating the legal interests of any other parties. As for whether new gTLDs will bring appreciable benefits to the Internet as a whole – as Web creator Tim Berners-Lee suggested in 2004 that they should – Beckstrom suggested that hopefully anyone taking on the task of buying a gTLD would recognize the enormous responsibility that would be assumed. “This is clearly not for everyone,” he wrote.

Is ICANN concerned that the fallout from this dispute may not subside prior to the close of Beckstrom’s tenure? ICANN spokesperson Jim Trengrove told RWW, “By the time Rod Beckstrom’s term comes to end, the new gTLD program application period will have been completed and the evaluation of those applications will be well underway. Rod already has remarked on the solid professional executive staff he has put together which will carry on implementation of the gTLD program even while a professional search for his successor is underway.”

Meanwhile, the other battle that ICANN is mitigating concerns another aspect of Beckstrom’s bold internationalization plan: It wants the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to remove itself from responsibility for the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which manages the assignment of names to country-code TLDs (like .co and .tv), as well as to the zone where gTLDs would be managed.

ICANN administrator Fiona Alexander made it very clear last March: It wants IANA to step aside. “Narrowing the scope of the IANA functions framework would promote the global public interest. Narrowing the scope of the framework subject only to [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] oversight would increase global confidence in the performance of these functions.”

Is ICANN concerned this situation may not be resolved before next year? “Rod is pleased with the increased internationalization of ICANN during his watch, beginning with the Affirmation of Commitments agreed to within months of his taking over as president and CEO of ICANN,” ICANN’s Trengrove tells us. “He believes ICANN’s relationship with IANA continues to evolve in a positive direction.”

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