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ICANN’s New gTLD Program Makes Some Progress (... Sort of)

True to form, the outcomes of the ICANN Board’s new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) Retreat in Norway late last week haven’t exactly provided the community with huge amounts of confidence in the fact that the new gTLD program will be finalised this year. But when you read between the lines, we may be able to provide supporters of the program with a little hope…

Firstly, I am personally of the opinion that the Board genuinely wants this program to get moving and credit should be given to them in balancing such a complex range of viewpoints and interests. Clearly, dedicating their time during this retreat to this topic indicates a willingness to work through the challenges that have been presented thus far.

Furthermore, given that the focus of this latest meeting was almost solely on the remaining key new gTLD issues it is promising that although we didn’t receive the answers we had hoped for, we did receive some clarification and for the first time in some time — no new questions!

In the resolutions, the Board stated that progress had been made and additional papers as well as a modified applicant guidebook had been requested for public review. These documents are scheduled to be released prior to the 39th ICANN International public meeting in Cartagena this December.

Disappointingly, the major issue of Vertical Integration was presented to the board and little progress was made in this area. It is common knowledge across the industry that the Vertical Integration Working Group, despite their best efforts, is unlikely to provide a consensus position and for the Board to ask the GNSO for a letter stating this clearly seems to be more procedural rather than common sense. The Board noted in the minutes today, that if such a letter is not received then the Board will interpret this as a lack of consensus and make the final decision regarding VI itself. (I think there were a few people expecting that from this meeting!)

One may be critical of the Board’s decision to not provide financial support for applicants from less fortunate locations in their decision to stick with a one size fits all approach for gTLD application pricing. However, given the cost of actually running a gTLD Registry, I have long considered that providing discounted application pricing in most cases was not really the best path forward and support the Board’s decision to provide assistance around education and encouragement for eligible applicants rather than financial assistance.

The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) has again weighed into the discussion at the last minute with last week’s letter (delivered aptly the day before the Board’s meeting) providing a few key considerations which have apparently worked into the Board’s thinking.

When looking at the logistics of root zone scaling (i.e. the number of new TLDs that can be added to the Root Zone in a year) the Board requested ICANN staff to create a model and a rationale to cover the maximum rate of applications that can be processed over the next few years (expected to be 1000 per year) along with a clear model for prioritising applications where the number of applications received by ICANN is above this limit. This goes a long way towards addressing the GACs position on prioritising certain types of applications in a ‘fast track’ type approach and also provides mechanisms to ensure that the program allows new TLDs into the root in a structured format.

Under some pressure from the GAC and also the IP lobby, the Board also provided direction and input into the issue of trademark protection. In particular, many will not be surprised to hear that the Board has requested clear description of the “substantive evaluation” as it relates to the Trademark Clearinghouse and the Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) mechanism which was shortened from 21 to 14 days as a sign of consideration with trademark holders who have long fought for tighter protection mechanisms through this program.

Finally, Morality and Public Order (MOPO) and the issues surrounding this were also touched on by the Board. They will accept any recommendations which are not inconsistent with the current process and will continue to work on ironing out issues for recommendations that are inconsistent with the current process.

The next Board meeting has been set for the 28th October and we can hope that this sees the release of the Applicant Guide book with enough time for public comment and any potential changes prior to Cartagena in December.

I think it’s fair to say that progress is continually being made on this very difficult and arduous process and we are still on track to see applications for new gTLDs open in the first half of 2011.

By Tony Kirsch, Head of Professional Services at GoDaddy Registry

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