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Next gTLD Round - A Seven Year Itch?

Donna Austin

Five years ago today, the ICANN Board committed to opening a second application window for the New gTLD Program as expeditiously as possible. The same resolution also directed the ICANN CEO to publish a document describing the work plan required prior to initiating a second application window.

Ask a Board member or ICANN staff when they expect the next application window to open, and they will inevitably suggest 2020 — another three years away. Any reasonable person would agree that eight years for a second application window is anything but expeditious, and some might say potentially anti-competitive.

Ask a Board member or ICANN staff what needs to done in order to open the next application window, and the response is 'that's for the community to decide' — but it is the ICANN Board that will ultimately decide when to open the application window. It is also ICANN's responsibility to inform the community what needs to be done in order for them to make that decision.

ICANN has provided indicative presentations that appear to capture their view of what needs to be completed prior to a second round, most recently at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Akram Atallah President of ICANN's Global Domains Division provided an overview of a number of reviews and policy development processes currently underway that he identified as being on the critical path to opening further application rounds for new gTLDs. Work efforts on the critical path include:

  • Competition, Trust and Consumer Choice Review
  • Trademark Clearinghouse Independent Review
  • Root Stability Study; and the
  • Subsequent Procedures New gTLD Policy Development Process Working Group

While this is helpful, what is really needed is a discussion among the ICANN community, Board and organization to reach a common understanding of what needs to be done to open the window to the next round of new gTLDs. This would enable a date for a next round to be identified that we can all work towards it in good faith. It seems this would be a useful conversation to have during ICANN's meeting in Copenhagen — perhaps it even rises to the level of a High Interest Topic? The concern is if we don't have the conversation and agree to what needs to be done, who is responsible and the timeline, we will just be chasing our tail.

Identifying a date provides certainty for ICANN the organization to ensure that they will be ready to administer the next round. A major shortcoming of the 2012 round was a lack of predictability — if it is not possible to agree on a date for the next round will see a repeat of the same.

On 12 January 2012, ICANN opened the first application window for new gTLDs, which ultimately resulted in 1,930 applications. It was almost another two years before we saw the first TLDs delegated, but once we got over the initial teething problems a regular flow of delegations followed. In the latter half of 2016, we started to see some real inroads being made by the next generation of TLDs, and predictions for 2017 are extremely positive. There is no doubt that there is already demand for the next application window for new gTLDs to open, and as the only organization that can respond to that demand, ICANN has a responsibility to provide some predictability as to when that will happen.

Deadlines drive action, so what we all need is a date. If there is indeed going to be a next round, then lets draw a line in the sand so we can all work toward that deadline. Whatever is decided, the time for indecision is over. The community needs certainty to move forward, so we can work together and achieve the best outcome for all.

My line in the sand is the seven year anniversary of the initial round — 12 January 2019 — what's yours?

By Donna Austin, Policy & Industry Affairs Manager at Neustar
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Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, New TLDs
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Second Round Deadline! Andre Forrester  –  Feb 08, 2017 10:39 AM PDT

Sounds good to me Donna! Itemize priorities. Set a date and get them done.

How does Never work for you? John Levine  –  Feb 08, 2017 2:47 PM PDT

As we all know, ICANN is a non-profit charity that is required to operate for the benefit of the public. So considering that there is no evidence whatsoever of a public benefit from the thousand-plus new TLDs (hand-waving about "competition" doesn't do it), and that the amount of abuse in new TLDs is vastly out of proportion to their small size, the only reasonable answer is Never.

What's the evidence that there's more abuse Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 10, 2017 4:18 AM PDT

What's the evidence that there's more abuse in new TLDs than legacy TLDs?

Yes, new TLDs are heavily abused John Levine  –  Feb 10, 2017 8:22 AM PDT

Here's a place to start: https://www.spamhaus.org/statistics/tlds/
Now you can do your own homework.

FYI, in the operational community of people who run mail systems, I know lots of people who block whole new TLDs with no complaints at all from their users. When registries sell domains practically for free to try and meet their unrealistic sales goals, who do you think buys them in bulk?
I will agree that private vanity TLDs don't see much abuse, but of course they have no public benefit at all.

I've covered the SpamHaus numbers at length Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 10, 2017 9:30 AM PDT

I've covered the SpamHaus numbers at length in the past, so all I'll note here is that the percentages given have less value than it may appear (given that SpamHaus only sees a smallish subset of each TLD's names).

I'm curious whether in your view the proportion of a TLD's names that are being used abusively matters more than the absolute number.

Abuse is abuse John Levine  –  Feb 10, 2017 9:35 AM PDT

It's clearly the proportion — if it were absolute numbers we'd say that .COM is the worst since it's bigger than everything else put together. I've looked at your attempted analysis to inflate the denominator with warehoused names, and let's say we are not persuaded.
As I said, I talk to people who run real systems and deal with real abuse, and their (our) real experience is that the new TLDs are a sewer.

Well, if anecdotal evidence is sufficient, I Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 10, 2017 9:48 AM PDT

Well, if anecdotal evidence is sufficient, I know a bunch of real people who are running their real web sites on real new gTLDs and are very happy to have found a decent name for a reasonable price.

Incidentally, 6 out of the 9 gTLDs on that SpamHaus list are Famous Four gTLDs. Perhaps what you and your buddies are experiencing is a Famous Four problem rather than a new gTLD problem. If the problem were industry-wide, perhaps we'd expect a broader mix of registries on the list.

Anecdotes John Levine  –  Feb 10, 2017 9:55 AM PDT

My anecdotes come from people who run mail for literally billions of users. Perhaps it would be more productive to try and solve the problem than to stick one's fingers in one's ears and pretend it doesn't exist.
Re who runs the TLDs, I have news for you — outside the ICANN bubble nobody knows or cares who runs a new TLD. To a usefully rough approximation, they all stink.

Wow. I feel a Godwin moment coming Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 10, 2017 10:56 AM PDT

Wow. I feel a Godwin moment coming on (and so soon!) so I will gracefully bow out.

Pick your pundit John Levine  –  Feb 10, 2017 11:35 AM PDT

I'd say it's more an Upton Sinclair moment, but whatever.

"predictions for 2017 are extremely positive". Really? John McCormac  –  Feb 12, 2017 3:43 AM PDT

Kevin, John,
Though Spamhaus can be a good indicator with e-mail, abuse in TLDs is much more than that. It also includes web abuse from counterfeit good sites to other nasty content. Each time a registry runs a freebie offer or a highly discounted registration offer, that offer will be abused for short-lived domain names (often used for spam e-mail) and dubious content websites. Some of the larger new gTLDs have run discounting offers to build the sizes of their zone files. However many new gTLDs do not use this approach and are still relatively "normal" in terms of abuse levels. The higher price on some of them acts as a deterrent to this more common form of abusive registration. There is an economic element to abusive registrations and heavily discounted or free registrations can exacerbate the abuse problem.

Some new gTLDs are zombie TLDs in terms of growth. Others are inflating their zone files through the use of heavy discounting as a core of their business model. Some new gTLDs are doing quite well and resemble early stage ccTLDs (which are essentially geographical niche TLDs) in terms of registration patterns and web usage. The happy-clappy approach of taking all new gTLD registrations as a whole does not work well because new gTLDs are, apart from a few generics, niche TLDs.

The biggest problem with new gTLDs went unaddressed because ICANN essentially hadn't a clue what was happening in the domain name market. Prior to ICANN being shamed into taking action over Domain Tasting, there was an artificial scarcity of "good" domain names as the domain name life cycle was being interrupted by registrars effectively stopping any "good" domain name being released back into the market. This was achieved by abuse of five day Add Grace Period so that the cost of a registrar registering dropping domain names was close to zero. If the domain name didn't make enough revenue in that period, it could be dropped. Thus in this artificial scarcity, the new gTLDs emerged as an answer to the problem. But when ICANN was shamed into taking action by introducing a "restocking fee", the business model of Domain Tasting broke. And with it, the demand for many of the new gTLDs. But like a scene from the movie "The Big Short" very few noticed.

Some new gTLDs were well enough targeted to their niche to be relatively unaffected but the laughable predictions that seemed to be based more on Numerology and Astrology than real market data where just that. The huge registration numbers expected by ICANN did not happen. And without discounting as a core element of a registry's business model, they still have not happened. But heavy discounting is a major factor in facilitating abuse of a TLD. Unless ICANN takes action now to prevent discounting (essentially locking the TLD into a boom and bust cycle) being used as a business model, then the mistakes of Round One may be repeated in Round Two. There are millions of new gTLD domains coming up for renewal in 2017. Like the domains from the Chinese Bubble of 2015/2016, most of them have very low probabilities of renewal. But even the Chinese Bubble had its fans who were claiming that this time it would be different. It wasn't.

Sounds right to me John Levine  –  Feb 12, 2017 9:00 AM PDT

This all seems reasonable, and reinforces my point — ICANN as a public benefit charity needs a lot better justification for a second round than "some people think they'll make money if they can sell more TLDs."

Levine, do you really think that *all* Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 12, 2017 2:12 PM PDT

Levine, do you really think that *all* that McCormac just said was reasonable?

It seems to me he was reinforcing my point, which is that *some* new gTLD registries are attracting abusers by offering domains for cheap.

Your own SpamHaus data reinforces this. The ccTLD .us (which is fairly strictly controlled by USG and doesn't even permit Whois privacy) is on that SpamHaus list, entirely because it had a discount recently.

You seem to be dissing the entire new gTLD program just because some new gTLDs (.top, the Famous Four stable, and maybe a Uniregistry or two) sell for cheap and ergo attract spammers and other malefactors.

By your own admission, .com attracts more abuse than new gTLDs.

But these idiots were already spamming, phishing etc. If your point is that their overheads are lower when a new gTLD registry sells names cheaply, I agree with you. It's obvious.

If your point is that new TLDs/gTLDs increase the amount of abuse, I'm going to need to see your sources, because I don't think I have seen any data on that yet.

SIgh John Levine  –  Feb 12, 2017 2:27 PM PDT

You might want to go look up that Upton Sinclair quote.

In the meantime, since SOME of the new TLDs gush abuse, and NONE of the new TLDs have any public benefit, ICANN as a non-profit dedicated to the public benefit has no reason to permit even more new TLDs.

Levine,I already looked up the Upton Sinclair Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 12, 2017 2:54 PM PDT

Levine,

I already looked up the Upton Sinclair quote.

I took your reference to it as an ad hominem argument. Or an pointless insult. So I kinda gave you the benefit of the doubt and didn't pay that much attention to it.

Kev

Q Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 12, 2017 4:14 PM PDT

I ask you to provide evidence for your statement "NONE of the new TLDs have any public benefit".

If you have any evidence for that, beyond your opinion, I will take it.

uh uh John Levine  –  Feb 12, 2017 4:18 PM PDT

Sorry, it's the other way around. Other than enriching domain speculators, how is the world better for having .xyz, .hockey, .fail, .sucks, and all the rest?

Okay, let's assume the world is not Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 20, 2017 2:21 PM PDT

Okay, let's assume the world is not better with new gTLDs.

To which point in the DNS's history would you have us all to regress in order to make the world a little more the way you would like it?

Pre-2012-round? Pre-2003-round? Pre-2000-round, with no new gTLDs at all?

Early 1990s, before many of the ccTLDs existed?

All the way back to the mid-1980s?

What's the number of TLDs you think is appropriate?

Let's remove all TLDs! Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 12, 2017 4:55 PM PDT

You think .com is okay? Why>

.com makes like $700 million+ for one company. Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 12, 2017 5:01 PM PDT

Are you on Verisign's payroll?

Probably your client. Am I right? Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 12, 2017 5:23 PM PDT

Probably your client. Am I right?

Sigh John Levine  –  Feb 12, 2017 6:07 PM PDT

Gee, a little projection onto other people?

No, I do not work for Verisign. I am a trustee of the Internet Society and the corporate secretary, both unpaid, so clearly I am a shill for .ORG, .NGO, and .ONG. Have a nice life.

Lets be realistic . 2024 is much more likely Phil Buckingham  –  Feb 12, 2017 6:12 PM PDT

Donna, thanks for you post. As part of the Sub Pro WG Leadership team I personally agree with you that "deadlines drive action" and that the potential mooted 15000 .brand applicants need a date to plan for a "Round 2. " Many of ICANN's Senior staff and ICANN Board members weren't around five years ago. They clearly don't appreciate what a hornet's nest Round 1 was ( &continues;to be). 2020 is totally unrealistic IMO. I might add also there are a number of powerful players within the "ICANN community" that never want to see another Round and certainly not before the mess of Round 1 is concluded. Should I mention .web at this juncture or perhaps .amazon.  Also I might add did you realise that new gTLD registrations actually peaked last month as heavily discounted speculative registrations didn't renew. There is serious trouble ahead , but why should ICANN care when it gets 25cents on each registration of the top 10 /500 open Registries who control 75%+ of the market.

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