Once again, and hopefully for the final time, the internet community has an official time-line for the arrival of new generic top-level domains. ICANN's recent decision to publicly name May 30, 2011 as the planned launch date for new gTLD program was courageous, welcome, and absolutely necessary. The ICANN Board and staff alike should be congratulated for their bold commitment to opening the first-round application window less than seven months from now, and for providing the community with visibility into its working plan. After almost two years of delays, which have left many potential applicants tapping their toes in frustration, it is gratifying that ICANN has finally enabled its many enthusiastic and committed supporters to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Now that the opening day for applications has been scheduled, it is imperative that ICANN and the ICANN community keep up the momentum, maintain the focus, and avoid the kind of distractions that have plagued the process over the few years since it was first announced. As can be inferred from the recent rash of announcements and commentary following the ICANN Board's decision, many organizations are already brushing the cobwebs off their applications, entering strategic relationships, and beginning to roll out their marketing plans. The announcement of the May 2011 launch date was a starting pistol that will see many applicants quickly ramp up their efforts to finalize and implement their strategies and to accelerate outreach efforts with their respective communities.
Geographic and cultural TLD registries, and applicants for IDN TLDs, now also have a target date for securing the local support that will be needed to help them bring user-friendly addressing to disenfranchised communities around the world, helping create a truly worldwide and inclusive domain name system. ICANN will be able to make good on its "One World. One Internet. Everyone Connected." slogan, dramatically improving its credibility on the international stage. The forthcoming expansion of the DNS will be an exciting time for the global internet, and ICANN should be commended for putting the wheels in motion that will now make it happen on a timely basis.
The proposed "final" Applicant Guidebook (now referred to as the AGB) is scheduled to be published tomorrow (11/09/2010) for a 30-day public comment period, which will close immediately before the next ICANN Board meeting, on the penultimate day of the Cartagena meeting next month. It's possible, even likely, that some opponents of the new gTLD program will use this opportunity to stuff the comment period, back-loading it with as many negative comments and attempted eleventh-hour surprises as they can muster, in a last-ditch attempt to delay the process. They will complain that their voices have not been heard and that more time, consultations and comment periods are needed to work out the kinks in the AGB. But as anybody who has been involved with the process for the last few years will appreciate, the time for such rhetoric has long passed. Every affected community has now been heard, and we're now on the verge of a policy that takes all interested parties' views into account.
ICANN's timetable has generously provided enough room for the AGB to be refined a little before the program officially launches — think tweaks rather than fundamental changes — and it also leaves enough time for some fat to be trimmed from the process, particularly with regard to the length of the application window itself. ICANN's recent "Delegation Rate Scenarios For New gTLDs” paper states that ICANN will accept applications for new gTLDs for 90 days following the closure of the four-month communications campaign. With a May 30 opening date, a window this wide would mean that ICANN may not even begin to start processing applications until late August 2011 at the earliest. With the AGB currently predicting eight months of processing time for even very simple and non-controversial applications, and given a likely 30-to-90-day pre-launch ramp-up for successful new gTLD registries, it could be July 2012 before the first registries begin their sunrise periods and almost two years from now before any new domains are generally available to everyday registrants.
Given its unfortunate track record of delays, ICANN could now do the community a great service by finding efficiencies in the application process where it can. Reducing the length of the application window from 90 to 30 days would be an excellent place to start, cutting the bloat and streamlining the program's launch. As many others have already commented, most applicants will very likely wait until the very last minute before filing their applications, limiting the utility of such a long application period. An unnecessarily long window would harm those organizations that have already spent a great deal of time and resources preparing their applications, while benefiting only those applicants — likely to be negligible in number — who hear about the new gTLD program only at the very end of ICANN's four-month publicity campaign. Let us not forget that ICANN first promised new gTLDs in 2008, and the process has been receiving publicity broadly in the media and elsewhere ever since. Over the next six or seven months, dozens of applicants will carry out their own communications campaigns in the their own communities, raising the profile of the new gTLD program still further. It will not be long before it will be impossible for anybody with an ear to the media to present a plausible excuse why they were not aware of the program's existence.
The fact that ICANN has approved a timetable for the opening of the new gTLD application window is excellent news for the domain name industry and the internet at large. The global rewards from increased competition and more inclusive community representation will be huge, and ICANN should be sincerely thanked for finally making it happen. All that is required now is a fervent commitment to the momentum created by this announcement and an honest desire to retain focus over the coming months.
By Johnny Du, VP, StableTone Ltd
|Data Center||Policy & Regulation|
|DNS Security||Regional Registries|
|Domain Names||Registry Services|
|Intellectual Property||Top-Level Domains|
|Internet of Things||Web|
|Internet Protocol||White Space|
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