At its recent meeting in San Francisco, ICANN approved a new draft timeline for the launch of its new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) program that will let its Board of Directors approve the final Applicant Guidebook in June 2011, enabling companies to apply for gTLDs before the end of the year.
According to the resolution passed by the Board, ICANN's directors will hold a special meeting on June 20 — the first day of its Singapore conference — to consider approval of the Guidebook. Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said that a guidebook approval at the start of the week gives the community an excuse for a big celebration during the Singapore meeting.
The decision to approve a new timetable came at the end of ICANN's 40th public meeting, which was its largest to date with more than 1,700 registered delegates. For the Board, the meeting week was occupied by intensive consultations with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and, in parallel, with the community at large. The GAC had raised 80 issues where it was still concerned with the contents of the Guidebook, and the Board sought an equitable compromise that considered both the views of governments and the community's established consensus positions.
Unfortunately, the time allocated to these discussions in San Francisco was not sufficient to allow the Board and GAC to reach a definitive final position. The newly approved timeline, however, calls for the consultation, with an additional round of public comment, to conclude by May 30. ICANN directors described the timetable as both realistic and responsible, and several members of the Board expressed their resolve to finalize the Guidebook in Singapore.
After so many delays and abandoned roadmaps over the last few years, as the rules for applying for gTLDs underwent multiple loops of revision and public comment, the program may now be finally in the home stretch — ready to make the transition from policy development to implementation. This means, of course, that it is now more important than ever for Internet-using enterprises to consider their gTLD strategies, even if they do not plan to apply.
Following the approval of the Guidebook, ICANN plans to launch a four-month outreach program designed to expand awareness of the new gTLD process to a wider audience.
If you're reading these words before that process begins, you're ahead of the curve. You should use that time advantage to both develop your gTLD strategy and find the expert partners you'll need to make it successful. The application window is expected to be short — just two or three months — and is likely to open before the end of 2011. There have been many delays, but wise applicants will begin their preparations in earnest ASAP.
By Roland LaPlante, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Afilias. An expert on new TLD development, LaPlante is an original member of the management team at Afilias and has over 30 years' senior marketing experience building brands at companies like Procter and Gamble, Citibank, and McGraw-Hill.
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