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Next gTLDs: 2016 or 2019?

On September 22, 2014, ICANN published an analysis of the review and assessment work that remains to be done before a new round of gTLD (generic Top Level Domain) applications can be initiated.

According to the document, 2016 is the earliest a call for the next lot of applications to operate an Internet suffix could come.

To many, a subsequent application window so soon after the 2012 round seems unrealistic. ICANN has committed to undertaking a full review of that first round before moving ahead with another. The September 22 document outlines the steps needed to get to that point. In a word: lots!

Besides, ICANN has never been good at keeping deadlines. The first round was announced in 2008, a huge 4 years before it actually happened. So will the next round suffer the same fate?

Money problem?

ICANN’s situation today is very different in at least one major aspect: finances. The organisation’s budget for FY 2008 was $39.9 million. By FY 2015, that figure had grown to a whopping $169.9 million!

ICANN has significantly increased its workforce, going from 143 in June 2012 to around 330 staff now. Make no mistake, this has not been as a result of the new gTLD program. Only 10% of that workforce is assigned to the program.

The simple truth is that from the IANA transition to its internationalisation and opening of hubs and offices around the world, in recent years ICANN has taken on a lot more than its core mission of looking after the Internet’s naming and addressing identifiers and their protocols. And doing all of that costs money.

So new gTLDs haven’t weighed down the ICANN budget as much as one might think. But they haven’t contributed to the budget to the extent expected either. The FY 2015 budget assumed that around 400 new gTLDs would be active by end of 2014. That objective has been reached and surpassed. But it also assumed 33 million new registrations, and the ICANN fees that go with them. To date, new gTLD registrations “only” total just over 2 million. A fair number, but far from the one projected in the current ICANN budget.

The increase in ICANN’s budgetary requirements coupled with the lower income from new gTLDs has some speculating that the subsequent round of new gTLDs has to be sooner rather than later. Simply because ICANN needs the money. I have to admit to subscribing to that theory and even discussing it in a recent French magazine article. The only problem is, according to internal ICANN sources I spoke to recently, it’s a load of rubbish!

Pick your date!

I am told there is no pressure inside of ICANN to roll out a subsequent round sooner rather than later. The pressure is coming from outside. From those who missed the boat on the first round, or have ideas or business plans they want to be able to execute through the operation of a new gTLD.

In fact, some internal ICANN predictions apparently put the next round as far down the road as 2019! My contacts were quick to point out that the work currently ongoing is VERY preliminary so that any prediction at this stage can really be little more than a range of years.

So there you have it. The next round of new gTLDs? Anywhere from 2016 to 2019… or somewhere in between.

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant

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