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EoWhy?

Jothan Frakes

I have come to acceptance that the community proposal for Expressions of Interest in new gTLDs (EoI) was removed from consideration during ICANN's March 12th Board Meeting in Nairobi. It should have passed, but it got lobbied into oblivion by some in attendance at the Nairobi meeting. They deserve their say, those who oppose it, but quite frequently the arguments used fail logic once one reflects upon them, or contrast them against the facts.

The EoI did not pass, but the silver lining in it all is that it proved that the community could raise up a proposal to the board using the Bottom-Up approach.

I am grateful. I have a well honed ability to find acceptance in things that I don't agree with. I hate the outcome but I would do it all again.

The many stakeholders and applicants who had been trusting dates and time lines that they had been provided in all meetings between the Paris meeting in June 2008 and the Sydney meeting in 2009, and had been growing businesses and reaching out to communities, carrying the message of ICANN and the promise of new TLDs.

These companies, individuals, volunteers, consultants, they all planned their lives, budgets, marketing, and jobs around the time lines that had been coming from ICANN. Sure, delays and adjustments meant the embarrassment of repeatedly revising and communicating new time lines to their clients, shareholders, boards of directors, communities.

And then came the Seoul ICANN meeting. Rather than get the schedule in place and stop the sliding dates and the embarrassment that they were causing ICANN and the interested stakeholders, ICANN instead opted to clam up about dates and time lines.

This not only completely undermined their own credibility; it froze financial support for new TLD applicants of every shape and size and eliminated institutional confidence in ICANN and its new TLD program.

And in that choice to coward away from communicating dates, ICANN really created the EoI. All I did is channel the contempt, cynicism and abject frustrations of the various community members who had timelines pulled out from under them in the Seoul meeting, working to turn that passion into productive effort. So you could say ICANN was the catalyst.

I am grateful that I had the influence, respect and trust from stakeholders to have pulled so many parties together to collaborate and support an initiative which tested ICANN's 'Bottom-up Process'. And I had the privilege of presenting the concept of an expressions of interest process as a way to keep the new TLD program on pace while removing pressure from the staff and board for evaporating the foundations out from under supporters and believers in the new TLD program at the Seoul meeting.

I cannot take full credit for the Expressions of Interest, it came from a number of people in the community, from a number of various stakeholders who did not want to see the momentum die from ICANNs opting at redacting and retracting communication of dates and timelines.

I just had tenacity to be a spokesperson for a large group of stakeholders in the Seoul meeting but could not at all take all of the credit for the EoI. It was humbling to read through the transcript from the public meeting as I notice the many, many supporters who I consider to be leaders in the community who stepped up after I did in support of the proposal at the public meeting.

It was really just a sensible approach of decoupling the application process from the review, assignment and delegation stages of the new TLD program that we had seen originate from the GAC. I explained that the catalyst was the outright elimination of discussion of dates in Seoul, and that I'd chosen to do something positive and constructive rather than give in to the growing cynicism in the applicant pool.

After gathering many in diverse parts of the community and stakeholder groups to provide a draft document to ICANN that contained a number of concepts and submitting it in the comment period that followed the Seoul board resolution, ICANN staff drafted a proposal for an Expression of Interest process and put it out to the community to comment on.

The community rose up to support or not support the overall concept. Not everyone liked every aspect of it, some loved it outright, and many (especially brands who are fighting with their last breath to oppose the new TLDs but ironically are preparing applications and will apply once they can) sought to quash it.

Ultimately it came down to transparency being the root of its demise. Many brands did not want the double-standard of their position on new TLDs exposed, and fears by governments that a public morality issue would creep in with .f-bomb holding up the whole process, because all strings would be released.

It took reverse psychology and intense lobbying in Nairobi for those who wanted EoI their way or no-way, and those people got what they wanted.

I disagree with the board's decision, but the board was requested to pass or fail the EoI and they failed it opting to allegedly continue the momentum of the new TLD program. Using the Paris meeting announcements that stemmed from the board votes to open up the new TLD program in 2008, things had been progressing along until 'overarching issues' got thrown in front of the process, injecting delays.

I am getting a lot of feedback from within the community that there is deep disappointment and outrage falling out of the board decisions. And I am seeing a lot of people still bracing for the tsunami effect from the EoI being voted into oblivion in the tragic events of 3-12 (The ICANN Board decided to withdraw the Expressions of Interest among other decisions).

We'll see some startups pare down their staff and marketing budgets, other participants will close down entirely or completely move their focus. Make no mistake, jobs were lost as a result of the board's decision to fail the EoI.

I am already witnessing gloating by those interested in delaying the introduction of new TLDs who won a small victory for the status quo amidst the zebras and hippos in Narobi. These are not people who ponder the consequences or outcomes, they only relish victories.

Candidly, I was shocked the EoI did not pass. It essentially was just a time honored technique used in intelligent project management to reduce the ambiguity and theoretical concerns and operate in tandem with the solutions to some of the thorny issues that were open. It had every opportunity to thrive and provide benefit to ICANN, to the applicants, to the communities, investors, to the process itself.

There was an opportunity to make the new TLD program real again after Seoul. In Seoul the new TLD program was converted into vaporous concept with hazy, slippery deadlines that have anyone that follows them met with laughter and doubt when presenting timeline estimates.

Apparently the community had really gotten quite a bit of momentum with the Expressions of Interest concept. It looked like it had some promise. Many elements of the concept were attractive and productive.

But the takeaway and probably the most important thing that happened was that the community rose to present an idea, that the board heard that message, and that it even became something to be voted upon at all.

While I watch many of the investors and communities that were in strong support of the new TLD program wither or hibernate in a process that kills jobs during a weak global economy as a result of the March 12th board votes, I remain optimistic that the new TLD program will continue and we'll see those who had the intestinal fortitude and capable war chests ride out the storm of perpetual delay.

And I would do it all over.

I have not lost my faith in the community. I hope the community has not lost faith in ICANN, and I would encourage the community not to become stoic when their efforts appear for naught like we were shown.

My heart goes out to those who have families to feed that were impacted by the decisions the board made.

By Jothan Frakes, Domain Name Industry Consultant
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