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ICANN approves “digital archery” gTLD batching

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2012, Domain Policy

It’s official. ICANN’s board of directors has approved the widely derided “time target variance” procedure for batching new generic top-level domain applications.

It’s now being officially called “digital archery”.

The ICANN board met on Wednesday to vote in favor of the system, which was first outlined by senior VP Kurt Pritz at the Costa Rica meeting earlier this month.

Resolved (2012.03.28.01), the Board confirms the approval of secondary timestamp/digital archery as the mechanism for sorting new gTLD applications into batches, and directs that the operational details of the mechanism be communicated to applicants and the public as necessary and appropriate.

The digital archery system outlined in the resolution is pretty much identical to what Pritz described at ICANN 43.

New gTLD applicants will be asked to select a target time, then log into a special page of the TLD Application System to hit a “Submit” button as close to that time as possible.

The applicants whose clicks are recorded closest to the target time get to be in the first batch. ICANN will rotate through applicants from its five regions to avoid geographic bias.

There’ll also be an opt-out for those applicants for whom time to market is less important.

“The closer to zero the secondary timestamp is the more likely the application will be processed in the earliest batch, assuming the applicant has opted in to the earliest batch,” the resolution reads.

The system still appears to favor applicants skilled in drop-catching and other domainer disciplines.

Judging by screenshots released by ICANN today, there will be no Turing test (such as a CAPTCHA), which suggests that a scripted virtual “click” may be the best way to get a good timestamp.

It’s also not yet clear how ICANN plans to address the problem of network latency, to prevent applicants “renting a room at the Marina Del Rey Marriott” and thereby reducing the number of network hops between themselves and ICANN’s servers.

The resolution’s rationale reads: “Latency concerns are addressed in a fair manner so that applicants are not put at an advantage or disadvantage based on their geographic location”.

The digital archery system was met with borderline disbelief by many ICANN 43 attendees.

ICANN’s board resolution suggests that the system may have also been controversial within the board. It notes:

some members of the community have expressed concerns about whether the digital archery proposal is sensible and fair, and an informal subgroup of the Board has studied the feasibility, benefits, and risks of the proposal as well as alternative batching mechanisms such as auction.

How to get a $180,000 new gTLD refund

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN will give new gTLD applicants a $180,000 refund on their application fee if they withdraw before May 2, it has emerged.

This refund is not mentioned in the Applicant Guidebook, in which the maximum refund available is $148,000. Nor could I find any reference to it on the ICANN new gTLDs microsite.

However, in response to an inquiry from DI last night, an ICANN customer service rep said:

Applications withdrawn prior to the posting of the applied-for strings are qualified for a $180000 refund (if such payment has been made and reconciled by ICANN). The USD5000 registration fee is non-refundable.

The posting of the applied-for strings occurs approximately 2 weeks after the end of the application window, which closes on 12 April 2012. Applications withdrawn after the posting of the applied-for strings will receive refunds according to the refund schedule in section 1.5 of the Applicant Guidebook.

At least one other person, new gTLD consultant Michael Palage of Pharos Global, was told substantially the same thing by the new gTLD service center earlier this week.

I believe ICANN is currently targeting May 2 for its Big Reveal, when we all find out who’s applying for what. May 1, I believe, has been ruled out because it’s a public holiday in some parts of the world.

I don’t think this apparently obscure refund opportunity significantly increases the risk of gaming, but I can see how it might alter some applicants’ strategies.

It’s possible, for example, that in some cases it might now make more sense for an applicant to announce its bid between April 12 and May 2.

After April 12, nobody will be able to file a competing, gaming application, but revealing a strong bid might be enough to scare already-competing applicants into dropping out for a 97% refund.

I don’t think it really helps reluctant dot-brand applicants, which have asked for the $180,000 refund to be available after they know what the competitive landscape for similar strings looks like.

ICANN asked to protect the names of body parts

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2012, Domain Policy

There’s been no shortage of special pleading in relation to ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program, but this has to be the wackiest yet.

The National Health Council, an American advocacy group, has written to ICANN to ask for extra brand protection for the names of body parts, disabiliies and diseases.

Seriously.

NHC president Myrl Weinberg wrote:

Because it is not possible to trademark a body part (e.g., lung, liver) or a disease category (e.g., arthritis, diabetes), it is difficult for the patient advocacy community to protect the use of such words.

We strongly urge ICANN to set forth a process that investigates the potential for misunderstanding, confusion, and harm when awarding gTLDs utilizing the name of a body part or disease/disability.

The letter was inexplicably sent to ICANN’s public comment period on the Universal Acceptance of TLDs. Needless to say it’s completely off-topic, not to mention extremely late.

What seems to have happened is that the NHC’s members received a briefing recently from an ICANN staffer as part of its outreach program and what they learned gave them the williesTM.

The Olympics and the death of the GNSO, part deux

Kevin Murphy, March 26, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s GNSO Council today narrowly voted to approve controversial special brand protections for the Olympic and Red Cross movements in the new gTLD program.

The vote this afternoon was scheduled as an “emergency” measure after the Council’s dramatic showdown at the ICANN public meeting in Costa Rica earlier this month.

Then, the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group forced a deferral of the vote on the grounds that ICANN’s proper bottom-up policy-making processes had not been followed.

Today, a virtually identical motion barely squeaked through, turning on just a single vote after all six NCSG councilors abstained in protest.

It was a fairly tense discussion, as these things go.

“This is a sham of a proposal cooked up by a couple of lobbyists and shoved down the GNSO’s throat and that’s why I’m abstaining,” said Robin Gross, sitting in for absent councilor Wendy Seltzer.

“I’m abstaining to avoid the downfall of the GNSO Council,” said fellow NCSG councilor Rafik Dammak.

Essentially, the non-coms are upset that the decision to give special protection to the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent appeared to be a top-down mandate from the ICANN board of directors last June.

(The board was itself responding to the demands of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been lobbied for special privileges by the organizations in question.)

ICANN policies are supposed to originate in the community, in a bottom-up fashion, but in this case the normal process was “circumvented”, NCSG councilors said.

Rather than bring the issue of special protection to the GNSO constituencies of which they are members, the IOC and Red Cross went directly to national governments in the GAC, they said.

The motion itself is to create a new class of “Modified Reserved Names” for the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook, comprising solely of strings representing the Olympic and Red Cross.

Unlike the current version of the Guidebook, the International Olympic Committee and Red Cresent and Red Cross would actually be able to apply for their own brands as gTLDs.

The Guidebook would also give these Modified Reserved Names the same protection as ICANN itself in terms of string similarity – so Olympus might have a problem if it applies for a dot-brand.

Of course, the GNSO Council resolution does not become law unless it’s approved by the ICANN board of directors and implemented by staff in the Applicant Guidebook.

With the March 29 and April 12 application deadlines approaching, there’s a limited – some might say negligible – amount of time for that to happen if the GNSO’s work is to have any meaning.

That said, ICANN chair Steve Crocker said on more than one occasion during the Costa Rica meeting that he wants the board to be more flexible in its scheduling, so it’s not impossible that we’ll see an impromptu board meeting before Thursday.

Today is your first new gTLD deadline

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2012, Domain Policy

If you’re planning to apply to ICANN for more than one new generic top-level domain and you do not already have a TLD Application System account, today might be your last day to get one.

Go here to get one.

It’s been widely publicized that April 12 is the last day to file a new gTLD application with ICANN.

It’s also been widely publicized that March 29 is the last day to register an account with TAS, which is a prerequisite to filing an application.

A less well-known date is today, March 23, five business days before TAS closes to new registrants.

According to ICANN, organizations applying for more than one gTLD with the same TAS account need to get registered in TAS at least a week before registration closes.

ICANN said this today, in reply to a DI inquiry:

29 March is the deadline for registration.

This means applicants will have until 29 March to request an application.

If the applicant is a new user and wishes to submit only one application, the applicant may initiate and complete the application request on the same day (29 March for example).

If an applicant wishes to submit multiple applications, it will need to initiate the registration process several days in advance of the application window.

The reason being that only registered TAS users may request multiple applications.

The process for becoming a registered TAS user not only includes completing the application request as mentioned, but also the legal review, USD 5000 registration fee payment, reconciliation of the registration fee payment, and receipt of TAS login credentials.

ICANN announced a few weeks ago that “ICANN recommends that organizations wishing to submit several TLD applications under a single TAS user account complete steps 1 and 2 several days (e.g. 5 to 7 business days) in advance of 29 March.”

It seems that if you need to submit multiple new gTLD applications and you haven’t already, you will still be able to do so before March 29, as long as you file them under separate newly created TAS accounts.

But please don’t take my word for it. ICANN’s communications on this particular issue have not been great.

Go check out the official site or contact ICANN if you’re worried.