The Question

The panel’s focus was on the utility and appropriateness of requiring Public Interest Commitments for premium .nyc domain names the city plans to auction beginning in early in 2015.

[Background: The city has announced that in early 2015 it will begin auctioning some or all of 3,069 domain names that have been set aside for revenue generation purposes. These funds will primarily benefit the contractor which will receive 60% of the revenue, with the city receiving the other 40%. This revenue is seen as remuneration for the contractor’s having invested several million dollars to assist the city with acquiring the TLD and facilitating the initial marketing of domain names.]

The panel asked if the development rights for important domain names such as hotels.nyc, news.nyc, pizza.nyc, schools.nyc, and sports.nyc, etc., should have strings attached to their operation. For example, should all or some of these directory-type names be required to present unbiased guides to our city’s resources? And should the developer of hotels.nyc be required to present a visitor-friendly guide to the city’s hotels? Or should the winner of a planned auction for Hotels.nyc’s be allowed to list only select hotels? Three panelists and a Q&A dug into these questions.

And Answers

The first speaker was Avri Doria (see detailed panelist bios below) a key player in developing the policy framework upon which the Applicant Guidebook for new TLDs was developed. Avri noted that her working group concluded that there should be no rules for how TLDs were to be used; that as long as those using the new TLDs followed the local laws, all would be OK.

The first challenge to this policy arose from nation-states, and were expressed by ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC). Its complaint centered on the use and allocation of geographic names, e.g., regional and city names. Later, the GAC concluded that improper use of a TLD by some regulated industries, e.g., pharmaceuticals, might harm the pubic and suggested that Public Interest Commitments be required for what have come to be known as Category 1 TLDs. Ms. Doria stated that as of now, these PICs are somewhat meaningless as there’s little enforcement. For example, only injured parties can receive a hearing from ICANN. Recently Public Advisory Boards have been suggested, but without enforcement powers, they offer a shinny promise.

She noted that the early thinking and discussions about new TLDs did not ouch on second level domains like those being proposed for PICs here in New York. She concluded expressing he belief that New York City should have the power to determine how its TLD is used, not ICANN.

Thomas Lowenhaupt presented next. He noted that 65,000 .nyc domain names had already been issued without any limitation on their use. But that there are 21,000 unallocated names that might have Public Interest Commitments (PICs) attached. In particular 3,092 Premium Names, set aside for high-bid auction beginning in early 2015, offer great promise. Many are category names providing the opportunity for directories of city resources. Thoughtfully developed, these new digital locations can improve the city’s markets while providing fruitful advice for city residents and visitors.

Using pizza.nyc, news.nyc, and hotels.nyc domain names to make his point, Thomas stated that their issuance through high-bidder auctions, without restrictions, would likely result in the .nyc TLD reducing choice for New Yorkers. For example, if an auction provided Pizza Hut with the development rights for pizza.nyc, they would likely use it to present their products, and exclude competitive local pizza restaurants. This outcome would be contrary to the interest of New Yorkers, local businesses, and the intent of ICANN’s New TLD program.

He suggested that the 21,000 unallocated names be examined for those that might provide a public interest benefit and that some of those names have Public Interest Commitments (PICs) attached. To achieve this goal Lowenhaupt suggested city hall establish a PIC Oversight Board to facilitate the identification and development of names that might benefit the public interest.

  • The Board should establish a policy, create guidelines, and administer a process for identifying public interest names. That process should maximize opportunities for public engagement.
  • The Board should identify PIC features that might aide the development of markets and the quality of city life: maps, searchable alpha and geographic listings, public rankings, comments, reviews, etc. Names should be assigned appropriate PICs.
  • The Board should devise policies that maximize opportunities for the creative development of public interest names. These policies should enable for a broad spectrum of society to avail themselves of the opportunities provides by this new resource (not just current market leaders). These might include innovation credits, subsidies, stretched payment schedules, and other incentives.
  • The Board should advise on suitable means of distributing PIC names: high-bid auction, request for proposals, or other processes.
  • On an ongoing basis the Board should monitor the efficacy of the PIC program.

He concluded by providing links to the three sets of unallocated names from which PIC names might be identified:

  • Reserved Names – 800 names set aside by reason of public benefit. Three fourths of these names are either neighborhood names or those set aside for Business Improvement Districts. Some category names, e.g., tours.nyc and taxi.nyc are also on this list.
  • Premium Names – 3,092 names set for highest bidder auctions to begin in early 2015.
  • Collision Names – 17,200 names that were temporarily excluded from allocation pending technical review for their impact on existing networking operations.

Gabriel Levitt of pharmacychecker.com was the last panelist to present. He spoke on the negative impact he expected the .pharmacy TLD to have on those needing prescription drugs. He stated that online pharmacies enable many to acquire affordable medications through importation, that 5,000,000 U.S. residents imported drugs in a typical year. He raised the concern that online pharmacies not associated with .pharmacy and its big pharma sponsors might be restricted from being listed on the TLD. This would make them invisible on the Internet. Tim McGinnis (participating remotely via Skype) spoke about the .pharmacy TLD with which he is associated, presented the current operation of .pharmacy as pro consumer.

Gabriel suggested that the Internet Society engage with the process via the following steps:

  • Issue a statement indicating the Internet should be used to maximize access to health care, including safe and affordable medication.
  • Issue a statement that TLDs in regulated areas not be funded by companies that stand to gain commercially from discriminatory registration policies.
  • Issue a statement that consumers need to be protected from dangerous rogue pharmacies but they should also not be deprived access to those that sell safe and affordable medication, even if based another countries.
  • Issue a statement that the levers of Internet governance should not be used to enforce laws that impede access to healthcare, including affordable medication.

During the Q&A that followed the presentation Tim McGinnis noted that .pharmacy was now an active TLD.

Robert Pollard noted that the neighborhood names are treated as public interest resources with requirement on their ownership and operation. He suggested that other names from the Reserved list be developed with PICs. Tim McGinnis indicated that ICANN rules would allow moving names from the reserved to premium list.

Art, who operates a .nyc Investors Meetup, raised questions about the existing Reserved Names and when they will become operational. He opined that because of their importance to the TLD, Premium Names must not be allowed to simply redirect or to remain inactive. Art inquired as to the status of the neighborhood and other Reserved Names. Tom Lowenhaupt responded that neighborhoods.nyc provided a way to apply for those names.

Joly MacFie asked for public hearings, possibly organized by Borough President Gale Brewer. As well, he spoke positively about the prospect of using wikis as part of neighborhood names.

Avri asked if there might be a way for the city to sit on the Premium Names until the public interest was determined. And answering Art’s question, she noted that TLDs must be activated within a specific period of time. She also said she hoped that something innovative takes place with .nyc, be it wiki neighborhoods or another development. On more than one occasion she expressed the belief that there were no “magic names” and that alternative were available in every instance.

Lowenhaupt stated that the .NYC Advisory Board met monthly under the deBlasio administration, but that the charter for the existing entity was set to expire at the end of the month (December 31).

Mike Lewis, an ISOC-NY Board member, spoke of the situation in the mid-1990s when the toll free numbers were expanding from 800 to 866 and 888. In response to concerns of about the equity of their allocation, the FCC set up an organization to decide who received the new toll free numbers. Mr. Lewis suggested that Connecting.nyc Inc. might serve a similar role and that the ISOC-NY put the idea forward.

Mike Caprio said he liked the neighborhood names but was concerned about underrepresented groups. Perhaps an arrangement might be established to provide reduced prices for hosting services or domain names.

Panel Members

ISOC-NY President David Solomonoff moderated the panel, introducing the panelists as follows:

Avri Doria is a member of the ICANN GNSO council as a representative of the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG) and was the chair of the GNSO Council at the time the policy for the current round of GTLDs was finalized. In the current ICANN GTLD environment, she specializes in community TLD applications, and is currently involved with dotgay LLC, working with the LGBTQI community, and helping PIR establish their community advisory council for the .ngo/.ong TLDs.

She is a member of the UN Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC) and of the Internet Governance Forum Multistakeholder Advisory Group (IGF MAG) and a former member of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). She spent 5 years as a member of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Secretariat.

As a technologist she has been involved in the development of Internet protocols and architectures for over 30 years, is a participant in the IETF, and a past chair of the IRTF Routing Research Group. She is the author of multiple RFCs and occasionally teaches on Internet governance subjects.

Avri has organized her own research consultancy, Technicalities. She also does part time volunteer researcher for the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). She is currently on the board of ISOC-NY. Ms. Doria was awarded the ICANN Multistakeholder Ethos award in 2014.

Gabriel Levitt is Vice president and co-founder of PharmacyChecker.com, which operates an online pharmacy verification program and compares prescription drug prices for consumers. Gabe is responsible for research, standards, and business development. He is also a public advocate for prescription drug affordability, Internet freedom, and the United Nations.

He has testified before Congress on issues relating to access to affordable medicines and Internet freedom, published an op-ed in the New York Times about online pharmacies and personal drug importation, and is the proud author of a chapter in an anthology about defeating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Gabe is president of the United Nations Association Brooklyn Chapter and sits on the Brooklyn County Democratic Committee. He is the recipient of the Margaret K. Bruce Advocacy Award for his work with the United Nations Association. Gabe received his Masters in International Relations from American University and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Political Science from Roger Williams University.

Thomas Lowenhaupt has developed digital marketing materials for the nation’s leading banks and telecommunications firms. He is also a civic activist who, in 2001, introduced an Internet Empowerment Resolution to his community board. The Resolution called for the acquisition and development of the .nyc TLD as a public interest resource.

He is the founding director of Connecting.nyc Inc. a NYS not-for-profit created in 2006 to advocate for the development of the .nyc TLD as a public interest resource. Thomas  serves as a member of the mayor’s .NYC Community Advisory Board. He received an undergraduate degree in government studies for Queens College and is a graduate of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and co-organized tonight’s event.

Note: Representatives from the contractor and city government were invited but were unable to participate.

Event Reports and Documents

  • Full Event video – The 1.5 hour event as streamed on December 18, 2014 with presentations by Avri Doria, Gabriel Levitt, Thomas Lowenhaupt, and Q&A as moderated by David Solomonoff. Joly MacFie oversaw the streaming.
  • Toward .nyc Public Interest Commitments – Technical difficulties limited the quality of Mr. Lowenhaupt’s presentation. A 17 minute video of his Public Interest Commitments slide presentation can be seen here.
  • Public Interest Commitments Slides – See the slides used in Mr. Lowenhaupt’s presentation.
  • Rambling Digital Humanist – A review of the meeting by attendee Kathleen Hulser.

Follow-Up

The following summarizes suggestions that might warrant followup:

  • Gabriel Levitt’s suggestion of activities the Internet Society might take in support of the public interest development of TLDs.
  • Mike Lewis’ urging that ISOC-NY promote a process for incorporating the public interest in issuing premium names.
  • Mike Caprio’s suggested that underrepresented groups be provided with price incentives or other means to encourage and facilitate industry entry.
  • Joly MacFie’s urging of public hearings.
  • Thomas Lowenhaupt’s suggestion that an oversight entity be created to make PICs work.

Sponsors

The event’s sponsors were ISOC-NY, advocating for New York’s Internet needs since 1997, and Connecting.nyc Inc., shaping .nyc and its dotNeighborhoods. Brooklyn Law School’s Innovation Program provided the space at their DUMBO facility.

Pictured from left to right above are: Avri Doria, Gabriel Levitt, Thomas Lowenhaupt, and David Solomonoff.