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The ICANN New gTLD Program is Approved: Now What? How to Submit a Quality Application in 6 Months

On January 12, 2012, the application window opens. Any corporation or organization can submit a request to own a piece of the Internet—their own top-level domain (TLD). Many reporters are confusing a TLD with a domain name. But the difference is like renting a single apartment (a domain name) versus owning the entire real estate complex (with a potentially unlimited number of domain names). And most important, when you own it, you set the rules.

But with less than six months between now and when an application can first be submitted, many are wondering if there’s enough time to do it right.

There is. There have been four or five years of preparation and community input, which means you get the benefit of all the prior work. Perhaps just as important, there is a defined, methodical process that all applicants are expected to follow. That should minimize confusion and rework, especially if you get started now.

At Architelos we see three phases to submitting an application. Below are the recommended steps to preparing and submitting a new gTLD application to ICANN:

  1. Determine what you want to do (July - August)
  2. Select your partners (September - October)
  3. Prepare you application (November - December)

Phase 1: Determine what you want to do (July - August)

First, of course, you must decide if you are going to apply, for what string and most important, for what purpose. These are not easy questions to answer, but ICANN will be reading them closely. And if you are a brand, it may require a crash course of executive education to make your marketing, branding, IT and C-level executives aware of the opportunity. While there is time, every minute must be used wisely.

The first step is to educate. The ICANN application requires a detailed description of your mission and vision for your gTLD registry and the benefits to Internet users, along with the broader social costs and benefits. Evaluating, understanding and defining these elements for your potential string(s) is the place to start.

If you are a brand, you need to start with a clear understanding of your long-term brand and marketing strategy. You’ll need to assess where your plans are being thwarted, and/or where competitive pressures (globalization, competition, technical trends) are challenging your expectations. Based on these calculations, consider how a new gTLD can be used as a platform to achieve your goals. If your application is successful, your new TLD will not likely be available until 2013, so this is long-range Internet property planning, not short-term thinking. Also, it’s unclear when the next round will open; therefore, it could be several more years until the opportunity comes around again.

Most likely, your legal department has been monitoring the new gTLD program, but it’s now time to get sales, marketing and the executive suite spun up. This is the long pole in the tent as they say.

Phase 2: Select your partners (September - October)

Some will be advised to first select your “back-end” or registry services provider. We disagree. We think you need first to ask yourself a key question: What do you want your back-end provider to do? Until you determine what your string is and the purpose of your registry, how can you effectively select a registry services provider?

Also, there are other partners to select: internet intellectual property and legal support, premium names program support, policy management support and front-office registry services, among others. Indeed, one of the first tasks is to determine the legal structure under which you will be submitting your application.

All of these service providers are ready, willing and able to assist you, but at the very start, it would be wise to have experienced eyes review your RFPs, especially if this is your first registry application.

Phase 3: Prepare you application (November - December)

Once you’ve done your homework and read the Applicant Guidebook thoroughly to become familiar with the questions, focus first on Question 18. It’s the most important answer you will write. Question 18, which asks for an explanation of the mission and purpose of your TLD, sets up the entire context of your application. The ICANN panel evaluators will rely on that question to provide background while they consider your technical and financial responses.

Moreover, communities and governments will be reviewing this answer to understand the purpose of your TLD—and to determine if they will file an objection. Around May 1, 2012, that is two weeks after the application window closes, ICANN will publish all the public portions of the applications. At that time, your mission and purpose will be public and can be looked upon as a “soft launch” of your TLD. Your answer will provide the media and your target market information on what value proposition your TLD will offer. And it will be compared against other applicants and current TLDs.

ICANN will be reviewing the answer to Question 18 to gather information on the social costs and benefits of your TLD. Although the question is not “scored” like the technical and financial questions, your answer will be evaluated for completeness.

Again, we want to emphasize that the time for writing will come, but first you need to determine what you want to do and who will be your partners. Complete phases one and two first. Once these decisions have been made, the answers to the questions will either be written by your newly selected and talented partner, or you will be prepared to confidently write these answers yourself.

Yes, six months does not seem like a lot of time to get all of this done. But if you break the process down in the sequence we recommend, you have a good shot at submitting a quality application that will secure your new gTLD.

By John Matson

Mr. Matson has advised Fortune 500 companies on cost structures, margin enhancement and implementation of new growth-oriented business models. He has performed several projects for ICANN, including advising on the new gTLD program and benchmarking previous gTLD launches. Architelos provides Top-Level Domain (TLD) application guidance and front-office services for clients in the DNS and IP industry. Mr. Matson can be reached directly at [email protected].

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