Internet Governance & Policy

The FTC Responds to ICANN and Weighs in on .SUCKS, New gTLDs, and the Multistakeholder Model

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May 28, 2015

By jbourne

Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, has issued her response to ICANN’s April letter with the following three main points:

  • The .SUCKS rollout is not an FTC Issue – though the FTC will keep an eye on it
  • The FTC has some concerns about the New gTLD Program in general
  • The FTC supports the multistakeholder model

This FTC letter (reported in Domain Incite) was written in response to ICANN’s April letter to the FTC and Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs, which requested that the national agencies assess whether Vox Populi, the Registry Operator behind .SUCKS, is violating any laws or regulations in its rollout of the .SUCKS gTLD. This was after ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency formally asked ICANN to halt the launch of .SUCKS, alleging that Vox Populi’s planned rollout constituted “predatory” and “exploitative” business practices.

Here are some key takeaways from the FTC’s response letter:

  1. The .SUCKS Rollout is Not an FTC Issue

While the FTC assured ICANN that it will continue to monitor ICANN-related issues that impact consumer protection, as it has done “for well over a decade,” the Chairwoman made it very clear in her letter that the FTC will not take direct action on Vox Populi at this time.

  1. The FTC has Some Other Concerns Regarding New gTLDs

The FTC took the letter as an opportunity to voice some strongly worded criticisms about how ICANN has handled the New gTLD Program as a whole. Specifically, the organization advised ICANN to give more consideration to the issues of consumer confusion in new gTLDs, the effectiveness of Rights Protection Mechanisms in new gTLDs (which are there to support the rights of trademark holders), and the treatment of new gTLDs that correspond to highly regulated industries (think finance, health, etc.). Essentially, the FTC sent ICANN a very clear message that problems related to new gTLDs are not just confined to .SUCKS, and that ICANN should start working on addressing those problems quickly.

  1. The FTC Supports the Multistakeholder Model

Finally, the FTC’s letter, both explicitly and implicitly, underscored the organization’s support for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. Although it had some strong words for ICANN, the FTC implied its support for the organization by encouraging ICANN to address the problems internally, within the multistakeholder community. Moreover, the letter underscored the FTC’s longstanding support of the multistakeholder model by mentioning the FTC’s past actions within the ICANN policy development structure and its ongoing work with the Governmental Advisory Committee’s Public Safety Working Group.

This last point is especially relevant given the scrutiny that the planned IANA stewardship transition has and continues to receive. As recently as this month, Congress held hearings in which members voiced concerns about the U.S. government relinquishing its oversight over a vital aspect of the Internet’s functions. The FTC’s response to ICANN on the .SUCKS matter clearly represents the Obama Administration’s support of both the multistakeholder model and ICANN’s critical role within that model.

It still remains to be seen whether the Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs will respond to ICANN’s letter, but at this point, Vox Populi will likely proceed with the .SUCKS rollout as planned. On a related note, the registry decided to extend its sunrise period for an additional 20 days to June 19.

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About jbourne