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ICANN Dressing Up for New gTLD Party in San Francisco

Antony Van Couvering

The ICANN Board met on September 24-25 2010 in Trondheim, Norway, to consider and act on the impediments still in the way of the new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) program. They passed a number of resolutions that provide very clear indications of how things are going.

The short version is that the news is good for new gTLDs. ICANN is nailing down the final outstanding issues and the timetable is clearer than ever.

Predictions

  1. The Board will make the new gTLD program happen by March 2011.
  2. The official announcement will be at the ICANN meeting in March in San Francisco.
  3. The final Applicant Guidebook will be published before the San Francisco meeting, which means that we'll know a lot even before the official announcement.

The Board is determined to make gTLDs happen soon

On a number of contentious issues, the Board resolutions gave some finality. In general, they stuck with what they had already decided. Some highlights:

  • Fees: fees will remain the same at $185,000 per application. No price breaks for anyone.
  • Root Scaling: ICANN estimates that they can add 1000 new gTLDs to the root per year. Of course, they can take many more applications than that, but this is the number they think they can safely introduce into the wild. Most estimates put the number of new gTLD applications at 500 or under.
  • Trademarks: trademarks will need to have "substantive review." As with most things trademarkian, this is a little complicated, but in practice it means that you can't just go register a trademark and then use it to challenge registrations: you must also have used it in trade. Unless you're planning to inflame social hatred, however, your application is unlikely to be affected no matter what the outcome.
  • Morality and Public Order: On this issue, where the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) essentially vetoed the previous procedure, the Board was less than clear. A working group (which I participated in) came up with some recommendations, and the Board said that they would use "recommendations that are not inconsistent with the existing process." So we don't know exactly what this will look like.
  • Vertical Integration: The Board noted that the working group tasked with sorting this out (which I also participated in) could reach no consensus, and that they (the Board) would make a decision.
  • San Francisco: the next ICANN meeting after December in Cartagena will be March in San Francisco. This is the big news that makes the timeline clear.

To give a sense of the Board's determination, here's an excerpt from ICANN's post-retreat bulletin:

The detailed Board discussion was guided by recent community input and provided direction in the implementation of trademark protections, the new registry agreement terms, measures to mitigate malicious conduct, and ensuring root zone stability. The resolutions indicate that many important issues have been addressed, including trademark protection, morality and public order, and vertical integration.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush indicated that "The board made considerable progress on the remaining issues and has asked staff to prepare additional working papers and a modified applicant guidebook for public review prior to the upcoming ICANN meeting in Cartagena in December 2010. The meeting results represent a key milestone after years of work by the ICANN community as we prepare for community discussion and debate in Cartagena."

Reviewing the Board direction, President and CEO Rod Beckstrom stated, "ICANN is prepared to implement this important new offering to increase consumer choice and to promote competition."

The official kick-off will be at ICANN San Francisco in March 2011

The March meeting will take place in the front yard of the tech industry, which in general pays little attention to the domain name world. This time, they will be watching, and therefore this is a perfect place for ICANN leaders to cover themselves in glory and boast of their achievement in finally getting gTLDs going. It doesn't require much of a crystal ball to predict that this is where and when the new gTLD program will get its final blessing.

Applicants will have plenty of information before March

It seems that the plan is to publish a version of the Applicant Guidebook before Cartagena, take comments, then release a final version sometime after the December ICANN meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. Since this will be the final guidebook, it should include all the information pertinent to an application, including the dates of the application window. The San Francisco meeting is likely to be a coronation, not an election. To the extent possible, everything will already have been decided, and everything will be choreographed. Which means we'll probably hear about stuff well in advance.

Summary

We all know better than to say "sure thing" when it comes to ICANN, right? Right…

Still, the momentum is palpable and the timeline is clearer than it has ever been. The main risk factor is new obstructionism by GAC, fueled by lobbying by trademark owners, who continue to claim that the program will be too expensive for them. But it looks as if the ship is edging into the destination harbor at last.

By Antony Van Couvering

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, Top-Level Domains

 
   
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Comments

What about the 40 applicant who paid ICANN $2,000,000 and who have been waiting since year 2000? Karl Auerbach  –  Oct 07, 2010 4:36 PM PST

ICANN put 40 applicants on hold in year 2000.

Those people paid $2,000,000 in application fees and met the rules of ICANN's game.  They were told to wait.  And they are still waiting.

The deserve their 11 years of priority and to be treated according to the terms put in place when they applied.

And some, like IOD's .web have not been silent.  I am one of their customers.  So were ICANN to award .web to anyone else they would be interfering with an ongoing and established business.  Would any sane entity be willing to obtain .web from ICANN if that might mean they they are banned from using in in California?

By-the-way, no one, and I mean no one, has yet been able to explain how ICANN is able to sit astride the world's only viable marketplace of domain names, setting prices (registry fees and ICANN fee), sales terms (UDRP and whois, one-through-ten year terms), business models (registry/registrar), etc, etc without running afoul of the laws regarding combinations and conspiracies in restraint of trade that exist in nearly every nation.

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