ICANN came closer to answering two very important questions about the new top-level domains application process at its board meeting last Thursday.
While confirming that cheaper application fees will be made available to worthy applicants, and that some sort of batching system will be introduced, ICANN has provided worryingly few details about both systems, just a month before the new gTLD program starts.
ICANN is currently expecting over 1,000 new gTLD applications, but it’s said that it only has the capacity to process 500 at a time. It needs a way to fairly create two or more batches.
Commercial applicants obviously want their gTLDs processed and delegated as quickly as possible, so how the batches are created is obviously a critical detail.
Little progress has been made on this issue since Dakar.
A lottery has been ruled out, according to Thursday’s board resolutions, because it would be likely to attract nuisance lawsuits under California gambling law.
If you’ve been following ICANN closely for the last few months, or reading DI, you already knew this.
The board has also said that there will be no benefit to applying early during the January-April application window. We already knew this too.
Instead, as ICANN staff have said before and the board has now approved, there will be a “secondary time stamp … used for purposes of determining the processing order”.
This system has evidently not been finalized yet. Nevertheless, the resolution contains a few hints about how it might work.
First, the TLD Application System will not be used to acquire the stamps, but it may be used to communicate [something] with applicants.
Acquiring a stamp will require “judgment” by applicants. Getting into the first batch will apparently be a skill game, so as to not invite lottery lawsuits.
There will also be some kind of regional allotment system, so that applicants from outside Europe and North America have just as good a chance of getting into the first batch.
Finally, there will be an opt-out mechanism, so applicants with less urgent applications (.brands, perhaps) can choose to be batched later.
It’s not much to go on, but since the process of acquiring a time stamp will not come into play until after April 12, it’s not something applicants need to worry too much about at the moment.
It’s also not yet clear whether positions in the queue will be transferable. A slot in the first batch could be worth something, to some applicants.
A mechanism for granting reduced fees to “needy” applicants in the developing world has been on the cards for a while. ICANN set aside $2 million in June to fund an Applicant Support program.
On Thursday, its board of directors approved an application fee reduction from $185,000 to $47,000, for “candidates that qualify according to the established criteria”.
While full details of these criteria have not been revealed, the board resolution suggests that “demonstrating need and operating in the public benefit” are the primary factors.
It’s not clear any more that the support program will be limited to applicants in the developing world, as had been recommended by the Joint Applicant Support working group.
The resolution does not mention geography, and senior VP Kurt Pritz suggested at last week’s US Senate hearing into new gTLDs that the YMCA of the USA may qualify for the reduced fee.
It appears that applicants wanting to take advantage of the reduced fee will have to take a bit of risk, however, paying their $47,000 fee up-front on the understanding that they will lose their money and their application if they are subsequently deemed unworthy of support.
Applicants will not find out if they’ve made the cut until November 2012.
ICANN’s $2 million only covers reduced fees for 14 applicants, and it’s not yet clear what would happen if more than 14 candidates qualify and ICANN cannot find third-party funding to support them.
Essentially, it’s looking a bit messy at the moment, and non-profits are only a little closer to understanding what their funding requirements might be today than they were last week.