ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee wants ICANN to drastically scale back the first round of new top-level domain applications, limiting it to “uncontroversial” strings.
In a letter last Thursday, interim GAC chair Heather Dryden wrote that ICANN should consider a “road test” or “fast track first round” made up of “relatively straightforward, non-sensitive and uncontroversial gTLD proposals”.
This doesn’t make much sense to me, for a few reasons.
First, Dryden’s letter does not attempt to define what such a TLD would look like, other than noting that they should include “community, cultural and geographical applications”.
Neither does it give ICANN any ideas about how it might separate out uncontroversial applications for special treatment before any applications have actually been received.
The idea might have worked had the Expressions Of Interest plan not been canned in Nairobi, but right now I can’t see an obvious way to do it without actually asking all applicants to file their apps before they have any idea of the rules their applications will be subject to or on what timeline.
It’s a recipe for, if not disaster, then for at least months and months of more delays as ICANN tries to design a parallel pre-approval process for uncontroversial strings.
Second, there’s no category of new TLD that is exclusively “uncontroversial” in nature.
The GAC wants “an initial fast track round for a limited number of non-controversial applications which should include a representative but diverse sample of community, cultural and geographical applications”.
This would seem to suggest that community, cultural and geographical TLDs are somehow less prone to controversy than other categories of application, which is not the case.
On the geoTLD front, you only need look at the large number of contested regional/city domains that we already know about – Berlin, Barcelona and Bayern, without leaving the B’s – to see that controversy is likely.
Even uncontested cityTLDs have potential for conflicts. Take .london, for example. Last time I checked, the one .london applicant we know of made it clear that .london would exclusively represent London in the UK.
If you’re a business in London, Ontario, or any other London, and nobody contests the .london bid, you’re forever excluded from the namespace. That, I would argue, could be controversial.
As for the cultural/ethnic TLDs, are the proposed .kurd, .eus (Basque) and .sic (Székely) TLDs really totally uncontroversial?
I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know they are designed to represent peoples largely originating from (relatively recently at least, if not currently) contested territories.
And what of “community” TLDs? It’s almost impossible to argue that this category is by definition less controversial, given that essentially any applicant is eligible to designate itself a “community” TLD.
There’s a pretty decent chance that one or more .gay bids will be a community-backed application. And I strongly suspect that the GAC doesn’t like the prospect of that TLD one little bit.
Third, ICANN has already executed two limited new TLD rounds.
The whole point of the 2000 round of new TLDs was to create a “test-bed”. Similarly, a key reason the 2003 round was limited to “sponsored” TLDs was to increase the TLD pool in an orderly fashion.
The reason the GAC says wants a limited launch this time is to help ICANN in “collecting relevant information” relating to the “economic impacts of a large number of new gTLD strings”.
There’s an assumption here that the behavior of registrants, such as trademark holders, will be the same when a small number of TLDs are released as when a large number are released, or that one can extrapolate the latter from the former, which may not be the case.
If ICANN wants a limited launch in order to measure the economic impact, it has two previous such rounds to study already. But if it wants empirical data on a large number of TLDs being launched, there’s unfortunately only one way to get it.
Personally, I think the GAC’s talk of “economic analysis” and “uncontroversial strings” is more likely a smokescreen for its real concerns about nations unilaterally blocking strings they don’t like at their borders, potentially leading to root fragmentation.