If you think you’ll be able to launch your new generic top level domain in the first quarter of 2013, you can pretty much forget it.
The Governmental Advisory Committee told ICANN yesterday that it does not think it will be able to provide advice on new gTLD applications until April 2013 at the earliest.
It’s also told ICANN to seriously reconsider its controversial digital archery program and the whole gTLD application batching concept.
The current timetable calls for GAC Early Warnings – the “headsup” stage for applicants – to be submitted concurrently with the public comment period, which runs through August 12.
The more substantial GAC Advice on New gTLDs period is meant to track with the regular objection window, which is expected to close about seven months from now, in January 2013.
Now the GAC says it won’t be able to meet either of those deadlines.
In a letter to ICANN chairman Steve Crocker, GAC chair Heather Dryden gave applicants several excellent reasons to believe that the Applicant Guidebook’s timetable will not be met:
the GAC has identified several benefits from having a single Early Warning period in relation to all applications (these relate to efficiency, consistency, and timeliness). On this basis, the GAC advises the Board that it is planning to issue any Early Warnings shortly after the Toronto ICANN meeting, in October 2012.
Given the delays to the gTLD application process, the timing of upcoming ICANN meetings, and the amount of work involved, the GAC advises the Board that it will not be in a position to offer any advice on new gTLD applications in 2012. For this reason, the GAC is considering the implications of providing any GAC advice on gTLD applications. These considerations are not expected to be finalised before the Asia-Pacific meeting in April 2013.
The bold text was in the original, indicating that this is official GAC advice that should not be ignored.
Given the bigger picture, with the looming threat of the ITU’s big summit in December, ICANN is likely to be extra receptive to governmental advice.
Readers will notice that Dryden isn’t saying that the GAC will provide its objections before April 2013, merely that it won’t have finished thinking about the “implications” of such advice before April 2013.
What this means for the gTLD evaluation timeline is anyone’s guess. I expect more clarity will be requested during ICANN’s public meeting in Prague next week.
These two pieces of timing advice have the effect of focusing ICANN’s mind on the more immediate problem of application batching.
The GAC seems to be backing calls from registries and intellectual property interests to scrap the batching concept and the ramshackle “digital archery” system.
Dryden wrote (pdf):
the GAC is concerned that the potential risks associated with the digital archery and batching mechanisms may outweigh the benefits. In light of ICANN’s decision to initiate digital archery on 8 June 2012, the GAC advises the Board to consult with the community as a matter of urgency to consider ways to improve its assessment and delegation processes in order to minimise the downside risks and uncertainty for applicants.
In line with the concerns raised by the community, this should include a focus on competition and fairness with delegation timing.
Far be it from me to suggest that the GAC picked its revised advice deadlines strategically, but they do seem to fit quite nicely into a batchless Initial Evaluation period that lasts about a year, as some community members have recently proposed.
Those who were paying attention during the panel discussion portion of Reveal Day last week will have noticed me and a couple of audience members putting Cherine Chalaby, chair of ICANN’s board new gTLDs committtee, on the spot about batching.
Chalaby confirmed that the committee – which has the powers of the board when it comes to new gTLDs – wants to hear from the community about batching during the Prague meeting.
The trick, he indicated, is to be able to reconsider batching without simply relocating it to the pre-delegation phase of the program, which will probably be next year.
“We will listen to alternatives and we will think about it, there’s no doubt, you have to be open minded about it,” he said.
My sense is that if opponents of batching want to have a shot at getting it killed off, they’re going to have to present a strong case – with a fully considered alternative – during their face-to-face with the ICANN board of directors on Monday.
Moaning and whining isn’t going to cut it this time, ICANN is going to want to see dates, delegation models, the works.