ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has asked for the price of top-level domains to be reduced from $185,000 to $44,000 for applicants from developing nations.
The call came in GAC advice released yesterday, just a few days before ICANN plans to publish the seventh and potentially final version of new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook.
The document (pdf) shows that ICANN’s board and the GAC have made substantial progress towards resolving their differences, but that several outstanding issues remain.
Support for developing nations has arguably become the biggest hurdle to be leaped before the program can launch, as I reported earlier in the week.
The GAC has now asked ICANN’s board of directors to implement a support program for developing nation applicants “as a matter of urgency”.
There’s an unstated concern that a Guidebook that appears to unfairly favor applicants from rich countries may be rolled up and used as a cosh, by certain countries, to bash ICANN’s international legitimacy.
Specifically, the GAC wants cheaper fees for poorer applicants:
For support to developing countries, the GAC is asking for a fee waiver, which corresponds to 76 percent of the US$ 185,000 application fee requirement. Further, there will be instances where additional costs will be required: for example, for auction, objections, and extended evaluation. In such events, the GAC proposes fee reduction and waivers in these processes/instances where additional costs are required. The GAC would further like to propose an additional waiver of the annual US$ 25,000 fee during the first 3 years of operation.
The 76% reduction, which is in line with suggestions made by ICANN’s applicant support working group (JAS), would see fees of $44,400 for qualified applications, a $140,600 discount.
The call for auction fees to be lowered appears, on the face of it, bizarre. Presumably it refers to fees paid to the auction house, rather than the bids themselves.
Either way, it appears that developing nation applicants could get a distinct advantage in cases of contested strings, if the GAC advice is followed.
The GAC acknowledged ICANN’s worry that gaming – bogus proxy applicants springing up in qualifying nations, for example – could prove problematic, and writes:
On gaming, the GAC welcomes the JAS WG’s recommendation to set up a parallel process to determine eligibility based on the guidelines they have provided. The GAC proposes that a review team be established consisting of ICANN stakeholders experienced and knowledgeable in gTLD processes, developing country needs and gaming patterns. Furthermore, consideration should be given to the imposition of penalties on entities found to be attempting to game processes put in place to support developing country applicants.
The idea of an applicant support initiative being developed in parallel with the Applicant Guidebook – so as to not delay its approval – was first proposed by the JAS back in November.
But even the JAS envisaged that the details of the program would have to be squared away before the first round of new TLD applications are accepted.
Even if the Guidebook can be approved in the absence of a finalized support program, I think ICANN could have a hard time launching its four-month international outreach campaign until it is able to answer the basic question: “How much is this going to cost me?”
While the applicant support issue may not be a deal-breaker when it comes to approving the Guidebook – currently penciled in for June 20 – it could still delay the opening of the application window.
We’ll have a clearer picture if and when ICANN publishes the next version of the Guidebook, expected Monday, May 30 (late Pacific time, I expect).