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New TLD applications to open May 2011

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has named the date for its planned launch of the new top-level domain application process.

According to a resolution passed at its board of directors meeting Thursday, ICANN is targeting May 30, 2011 for the opening of applications.

The proposed final version of the Applicant Guidebook is set to be published November 9, and is expected to be approved by the board at its meeting in Cartagena, December 10.

A four-month marketing and outreach period is expected to kick off January 10.

If you’re looking for the specifics of what the Applicant Guidebook will contain, you’re out of luck.

# Vertical Integration – No resolution

# GNSO New gTLD Recommendation 6 Objection Process – No resolution

# GAC Issues Letter including Geographic Names – No resolution

# Affirmation of Commitment Considerations – No resolution

Looks like we’ll have to wait until November 9 to find out what has been agreed on each of these issues.

ICANN could fast-track final new TLD guidebook

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN is considering a fast-track process for the final version of its new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook that could see it approved this December, documents have revealed.

Minutes and board briefing materials from ICANN’s August 5 board meeting, published yesterday, seem to demonstrate an eagerness to get the policy finalized by its Cartagena meeting.

Staff and board members favor a limited public comment period prior to the guidebook’s finalization, which could see it approved sooner rather than later.

Briefing documents (pdf, page 111 and on) say:

It is recommended that the Board consider the Final version of the Guidebook for approval at the Cartagena meeting. The final version will be posted for limited comment prior to the meeting.

The minutes of the meeting reveal a preference among staff and some directors, including chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, for this limited comment window.

The comments would be “limited” to new issues, for various reasons, including this:

A full process will bring forth every last attempt for parties to repeat positions to modify the process to be in line with their pecuniary or other interest. The optics might falsely indicate that there is no consensus around the model

ICANN’s obligation to consult its Governmental Advisory Committee would be carried out face-to-face at the Cartagena meeting, further speeding this up.

Tantalizingly, a flow-chart setting out the board’s options contains the possible launch dates for the first-round application window, but they’ve been redacted.

These documents date from August and the ICANN board has met twice since then, so things may have changed.

We’re likely to find out more about the timeline when the board resolutions from its meeting yesterday are published. I’m expecting this later today, so stay tuned.

ICANN ombudsman quits

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Policy

Frank Fowlie, ICANN’s ombudsman, has announced he will leave the post before the end of January next year.

A statement posted to the ICANN web site does not explain the reasons for his departure, but it does include this nugget:

“After six years with ICANN, I have logged 794 days in travel status, or about two years and five months away from home,” said Fowlie in announcing his departure to the ICANN staff. “It’s time for me to spend a bit more time at home with my wonderful wife.”

Read into that what you will.

ICANN will now look for a replacement. The ombudsman’s role is to hear complaints about ICANN’s actions. Former UN staffer Fowlie was the first to hold the position.

For no other reason than I think that it’s funny, here’s a link to a story about Fowlie getting shirty with a flight attendant.

Will .xxx be approved today?

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Will the adults-only .xxx top-level domain be approved today, or will the hot potato be tossed to governments for a decision?

That’s the question facing ICANN’s board of directors, which is set to discuss the controversial TLD for the umpteenth time today.

The last resolution it passed on .xxx called for a public comment period, followed by a decision on whether the registry contract is compatible with old Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

With the comment period closed, it appears that all that remains is to decide whether a new GAC consultation is required before the contract can be approved or rejected.

Some opponents of .xxx are demanding a GAC consultation.

Diane Duke, director of porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition, wrote to ICANN this week, urging it to refer the application back to the GAC.

As Duke knows, many international governments are opposed to .xxx.

A week ago, Australia’s socially conservative, pro-censorship broadband minister, Stephen Conroy, also asked ICANN for another GAC consultation, expressing his “strong opposition” to the TLD due to its “lack of identified public benefit”.

And Conroy is surely not alone. There can be few governments that would be happy to be seen to endorse pornography, regardless of its legal status in their jurisdictions.

The GAC is firmly of the view that “controversial” TLDs present a risk to the global interoperability of the internet. The fear is that strings such as .xxx could lead to blocking at national borders and ultimately fragmentation of the DNS root.

Whichever decision ICANN makes today, it is sure to cause controversy one way or another.

ICANN “intervention” needed on TLD ownership rules

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors is today likely to step in to create rules on which kinds of companies should be able to apply for new top-level domains.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush now says “intervention appears to be required” on the issue of registry-registrar cross-ownership, after a GNSO working group failed to create a consensus policy.

In an email to the vertical integration working group yesterday, Dengate Thrush thanked particpants for their efforts and added:

The board is faced, in the face of absence of a GNSO position, to examine what should be done. This is a matter we are actively considering.

My sense is that, while reluctant to appear to be making policy, the Board is unwilling to allow stalemate in the GNSO policy development process to act as an impediment to implementing other major policy work of the GNSO, which calls for the introduction of new gTLDS. Some kind of Board intervention appears to be required, and we are considering that.

Currently, placeholder text in the new TLD Draft Applicant Guidebook calls for a 2% cross-ownership cap and effectively bans registrars from applying to become registries.

Such a scenario would very likely make single-registrant “.brand” TLDs unworkable. Canon, for example, would be forced to pay a registrar every time it wanted to create a new domain in .canon.

It would also put a serious question mark next to the viability of geographical and cultural TLDs that may be of limited appeal to mass-market registrars.

Many in the VI working group are in favor of more liberal ownership rules, with larger ownership caps and carve-outs for .brands and “orphan” TLDs that are unable to find registrars to partner with.

But others, notably including Go Daddy and Afilias, which arguably stand to gain more economically from the status quo, favor a stricter separation of powers.

This latter bloc believes that allowing the integration of registry and registrar functions would enable abusive practices.

Dengate Thrush’s email has already raised eyebrows. ICANN is, after all, supposed to create policies using a bottom-up process.

Go Daddy’s policy point man, Tim Ruiz, wrote:

I am hopeful that you did not intend to imply that if the bottom up process does not produce the reults that some of the Board and Staff wanted then the Board will just create its own policy top down.

I hope that the Board keeps its word regarding VI as it was given to the GNSO. To not do so would make it difficult to have any confidence in the Board whatsoever.

It’s a tightrope, and no mistake.