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Mitigating Harm Caused by the ICANN "Draw"

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Werner Staub

The gTLD Prioritization "Draw" was a mistake. But its negative impact can still be mitigated. The best course of action follows directly from information that can be gleaned from available data.

Let us start with the latest piece of intelligence: who "played" in the "Draw"?

1766 of 1917 applications had a lottery ticket. This is much worse than expected. Very few abstained. Even the purely defensive applicants saw no other choice but to "play".

Take the brand TLDs. They gambled rationally — within the irrational framework set by ICANN. You do not know if your brand TLD will be useful. But a brand TLD could potentially turn out to be your competitive edge — or your competitor's. For instance, Bank of America Corp. had to worry that ".BARCLAYS" might be live 2 years (or more) ahead of ".BOFA". So the rational decision was to play the in the prioritization "Draw". (As things stand now, ".BOFA" has priority number 239, ".BARCLAYS" has 1558.)

Had ICANN done its job correctly, there would never have been any such pressure. By buying a lottery ticket, brands made it clear that at least one timing aspect matters to them. ICANN did not allow the applicants to be more specific. It should do so now.

Create the exclusive-use gTLD fast-track (without rate limitation)

Brand TLDs are generally for exclusive use. This is because selling one's brand domains to third parties would mostly be pure folly. Therefore, ICANN should immediately allow applicants to use the TAS (TLD Application System) to formally declare exclusive use. The concept is clearly described in Specification 9 of the published gTLD Registry Agreement and related ICANN advisories. Based on exclusive-use flags, ICANN can create a fast track for exclusive-use TLDs.

Now look at the numerical impact. There are roughly 600 brand TLD applications — about one third of the total. Being less affected by contention, they represent almost half of the TLDs that may eventually be delegated. Finding consensus for relaxing rate limitation on a fast track of unopposed exclusive-use TLDs should be easy. It causes no negative externalities while making room in the timeline for the other TLD applications.

Next, ICANN must avoid losing the free or missed slots.

Some applicants who "won" in the lottery will actually prefer a later date of delegation. Some will be held up in contention or objection and miss their slot. ICANN must allow flexibility based on applicants preferences. Applicants must be able to retain later slots than implied by the Draw without facing a "go-to-the-end-of-the-queue" dilemma. It is a matter of spreading spare slots, giving flexibility where justified, and letting waiting applicants move into imminent empty slots.

Next, ICANN must allow priority corrections for special public interest cases.

Take the ".RIO" applied for by the City of Rio de Janeiro. It has priority number 1722 — bad enough for ".RIO" to miss the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Rio. (Actually, the ICANN track record with unexpected delays is so bad that ".RIO" may even miss the 2016 Olympics in Rio.)

Or take ".QUEBEC", supported by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly of Québec. It has priority number 1404. Or take ".SCOT", priority number 1453. There are several other such cases.

At the very least, ICANN must allow a process to award special priority to public-interest TLD applications.

Next, take a new look at portfolio applicants

A TLD portfolio has higher value if its TLD introduction timeline is ordered by the wishes of the portfolio owner. This value can be leveraged for the benefit of *all* applicants. Here is how:

ICANN can offer "swapping" in exchange lower priority of the swapped applications. "Multiply your priority numbers by 1.111111111 and swap slots." That is, get less priority in exchange for swappable slots. A portfolio applicant can be allowed to make its entire portfolio swappable, or part of it, simply by accepting that ratio of loss of priority. This can change of rules can still occur now that the "Draw" has taken place, because all applicants will benefit, even those who do not swap.

Finally, correct the community objections and evaluations timeline

ICANN allowed no feedback on this key topic — though some came in public comments on the "Draw". To reduce the cost of community objections ICANN must allow potential community objectors to request the extension of the deadline. In this way objectors can focus on a single landmark objection rather than having to file multiple objections at once. If that objection prevails, many similar applications are likely to be voluntarily withdrawn.

By the same token, ICANN must allow the community priority evaluation (CPE) to take before community-based objections. This reduces the cost of resolution and provides better protection of legitimate community interests. It is also cheaper for respondents.


When there are options to reduce harm without negative impact on anyone, implementing them is a duty.

By Werner Staub

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains



Not completely with you on the harm comment Werner Jennie-Marie Larsen  –  Dec 19, 2012 2:41 PM PDT

You´re right that there was a big let down for many applicants with their fingers tightly crossed for an early number. But any final decision on ordering would have seen winners and losers. We were all getting tired of waiting to see that list, regardless of how it was assembled.

Enthusiastic agree with you on all things you mentioned that would speed up the process and keep the applicants motivated about their exciting new business and community opportunities. The more joint commitment and goodwill we see in the space, the more positive impact this program will have on the internet and it´s users. We need lots of great reference cases right out of the (2013) gate. Better odds for that if more names getting in early.

The contested names ordering needs some further attention. There are multiple applicants for a reason - they´re good names. They need to come out sooner rather than later while the appetite for new gTLDs is wet and journalists still have their pens out.

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