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Work in Progress: Preparing the Next Round of New gTLDs

Stéphane Van Gelder

There are now more than a thousand new Internet suffixes alongside "the originals" (not talking vampires here, but rather .COM et al). These additional web address endings are called "new gTLDs".

Since Internet technical coordinator ICANN's 2012 call for applications for the creation of new gTLDs, and their roll-out starting in 2014 when suffixes such as .BARCLAYS (brand TLD), .NYC (geo TLD) and .SKI (generic TLD) became active, the question of another round of applications has been asked repeatedly.

So on January 21, 2016, the "New gTLD Subsequent Procedures" Working Group (WG) was approved. Its task: to determine what rule changes, if any, need to be implemented if there are to be subsequent (hence the name) rounds of new gTLD applications.

Keeping tabs on new gTLD progress

From existing domain owners or TLD operators to brands or cities that missed the first round, there are eyes aplenty fixed anxiously on the Working Group to ascertain when (or even if) a next round is likely to happen.

That's quite some pressure, to which the group has just provided a clever response. In an unusual move for an ICANN Working Group, it has started publishing monthly newsletters to inform on its progress.

The first of these, dated March 2017, is available now.

Although a lot of the wording is typical ICANN, i.e. gobbledygook to all but the most dedicated of domain industry watchers, the issues being discussed do provide pointers to what a next round might look like.

Contracts, objections and money

The WG has several work tracks.

One is looking at whether Registry Service Providers — the entities that handle the technical back-end operation of an Internet suffix — should be pre-approved or accredited by ICANN.

Currently, ICANN only has formal contracts with registries — the organisations taking on management of a TLD — and registrars — the customer-facing companies where domain names can be registered.

As it drew into the domain industry organisations that were not domain experts, such as brands or cities, for example, the new gTLD program spawned a third type of business: the technical experts needed to make the actual registry computer platform work. The question now being asked is should they also be contracted to ICANN?

Many other factors — such as the ability of browsers and email clients brought up on a strict COM/NET/ORG diet to handle these new suffixes ("universal acceptance" in ICANN-speak), or how to object to an application for a suffix that may be too close to an existing third party's name for comfort — are being discussed.

In the end, will it all come down to money?

One of the key aspects of the previous round being considered is the question of applications fees. The 185,000 USD required by ICANN for round 1 applicants cannot be justified on the sole basis of recovering ICANN's cost of processing the applications. It has resulted in ICANN sitting on top of almost 350 million dollars that the non-profit doesn't quite know what to do (in fact, ICANN has started another Working Group to try and determine how to best use these proceeds).

Obviously, if there is a subsequent round, the amount ICANN charges to handle an application will be looked at long and hard. Decisions on these and other matters will presumably be catalogued in the upcoming WG newsletters…

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant
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Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, New TLDs
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