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ICANN New gTLD Program SWOT Analysis: WEAKNESSES (Part 2)

Jean Guillon

The SWOT analysis is a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture (source Wikipedia).

WEAKNESSES

Delays in the program. The launching of the new gTLD program is more than 2 years late:

a) Brands and other interested parties are now confused;
b) Applicants have budgets they cannot follow up with.

Difficult to deal with, for new gTLD applicants. The problem is not just a matter of filling in a form and paying the ICANN fee. It cost applicants to hire service providers to understand and answer financial, technical and legal questions. It requires different types of knowledge to be able to fill in an application. Acquiring a Top-Level Domain is not the same as registering a domain name.

Groups and well represented communities will find it practically impossible to defend themselves from abusive standard applications: accessing the ICANN world requires a high level of understanding ; it also requires time (and money) to join in. Many Communities don't yet even know that a string is going to represent their identity online for the next 30 years. For those who do, the cost to object an application is too high and the GAC procedures are so nebulous that some groups have definitely dropped it. Some Communities have no other solution but to enter the "let's wait and see" era.

A nightmare for brands:

a) how do I protect my brand(s) and how much is it going to cost me?
b) how shall I face possible infringements to come?
c) how do I object a specific TLD and how much more is it going to cost?
d) what are the tools and procedures available: the UDRP and URS, the Trademark Clearinghouse, the RRDRP, the PDDRP…
e) what about an agenda everybody could believe in and hold on to ? "when should I start doing that or this", "when", "when?

For those brands who can understand ICANN inner thinking, brands are worried about how to behave: they are not going to deal with one TLD launching but with hundreds… This requires a follow up of launchings dates, budgeting registrations in the Trademark Clearinghouse..., ensuring they miss nothing.

Very expensive = only a few can participate. The high cost of applying is USD 185,000 but it is certainly not a one shot price. Applying for a new gTLD also requires:

a) paying for a back-end registry,
b) consulting fees to fill in the application form,
c) monthly costs to pay ICANN once it is launched,
d) more consulting expenses for marketing to develop sales if needed,
e) traveling (to buy a "draw" ticket for example),
f) more consulting to learn how to face new changes in the Applicant Guidebook (GAC Advice for example, Clarifying Question), according to other extra delays brought forward by ICANN.

Multiple versions of the initial methodology: the Applicant Guidebook was issued 10 times! Thanks to the multi stakeholders model, it was possible to comment upon every new issue...and re-write part of it… Version 1 of the Applicant Guidebook is dated back to October 24th 2008. Would there have been more applicants with one version only? Would potential applicants have applied if they had known the guidebook could be changed at any moment?

An International communication campaign. ICANN announced an "International communication campaign" but it was launched far too late! A mere video on the ICANN web site was not enough. What about ...France and other non-english speaking countries in all this?

"IN ENGLISH ONLY": There is no equal opportunity for English — and non-English speaking candidates to obtain a new generic top-level domain name:

a) The updated version of the ICANN web sites is available in English only;
b) The "Applicant Guidebook" section states: "Due to the technical complexity and length of the Applicant Guidebook, translated versions are not always published on the same date as the English version." The problem is they are not published at all. The last update, French version of the Applicant, was posted september 2011;
c) The Independant Objector's web is in English only as well as most ICANN's groups web sites;
d) Some ICANN conferences sometimes offer live translations but most communications — and other exchanges — are in english only.

• Applicants will all market their domain names at the same time : be prepared to receive many emails from Accredited Registrars;

• Hundreds of people can participate in ICANN public consultations. New gTLD service providers can also influence ICANN decisions according to their own interests. Not only ICANN group leaders can be new gTLD service providers but, sometimes, they even sit at the ICANN board of Directors! Is it in the interest of new gTLD service providers or in the interest of end of the line users, the Registrants?

Acquiring a string representing a recognized Community is open to...anybody who can pay for a new gTLD application. ICANN allowed itself to give applicants — not only the Communities concerned — the right to decide to apply. The only firewall ICANN set-up to avoid this from happening is too complex and far fetched: the GAC procedure, far too expensive objection procedures, role of the Independent Objector (IO). The possibility to apply as a "community" applicant does not protect a Community at all, simply because anybody can apply for a community string… as a standard applicant. What about requesting such authorizations to be the genuine representatives of these Communities: some are known: their web site ends in ".int".

• Too many participants: ICANN neither expected to receive so many applications nor the problems coming with them: delays, technical glitches…

• Intended for new gTLD applicants and domain name service providers, not for end users. In its mission, ICANN states "...promoting competition in the registration of domain names". Potential benefits are for the new gTLD applicant. Shouldn't ICANN also consider end-users (Registrants) in its mission? They are the ones concerned.

Same strings with exact same meaning, can be considered differently in different languages (ex .WINE and .VIN). ICANN makes it possible, in its Applicant Guidebook to offer different domain name registration rules, according to the given language. This entitles us to a special protection for Geographical Indications requested for .VIN (wine in French) and none for .WINE (yet). Basically, a Registrant should be able to protect bordeaux.vin but not bordeaux.wine!

• Transparency.

• Some standard applications, representing Communities, won't offer to protect brands up-front with the minimum: a special "Sunrise Periods". Because a "standard" application does not require to do so, it will be the role of each brand to pay for its protection and register in the Trademark Clearinghouse to try to protect itself.

ICANN is supposed to be an International organization but its decisions also depend on the American Government. Its relationship with the US government does not span all relevant agencies.

• The Applicant Guidebook can be modified according to ICANN/Applicants/Service providers needs (this is a weakness too!);

• Some applicants just can't sign the RAA contract with ICANN.

To come: OPPORTUNITIES (Part 3)

By Jean Guillon, New generic Top-Level Domain specialist. More blog posts from Jean Guillon can also be read here.

Related topics: Top-Level Domains

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