New gTLD hopefuls set aggressive targets for ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 22, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN should start delegating new gTLDs in the first quarter of next year as previously planned and the Governmental Advisory Committee should work faster.

That’s according to many new gTLD applicants dropping their ideas into ICANN’s apparently semi-official comment box on application “metering” over the last week or so.

ICANN wanted to know how it should queue up applications for eventual delegation, in the wake of the death of batching and digital archery.

According to information released over the past couple of weeks, it currently plans to release the results of Initial Evaluation on all 1,924 still-active applications around June or July next year, leading to the first new gTLDs going live in perhaps August.

But that’s not good enough for many applicants. Having successfully killed off batching, their goal now is to compress the single remaining batch into as short a span as possible.

The New TLD Applicant Group, a new observer group recognized by ICANN’s Registry Stakeholder Group, submitted lengthy comments.

NTAG wants Initial Evaluation on all applications done by January 2013, and for ICANN to publish the results as they trickle in rather than in one batch at the end.

The suggested deadline is based on ICANN’s recent statement that its evaluators’ processing powers could eventually ramp up to 300 applications per month. NTAG said in its comments:

Notwithstanding ICANN’s statements to the contrary, there is not a consensus within the group that initial evaluation results should be held back until all evaluations are complete; in fact, many applicants believe that initial evaluation results should be released as they become available.

That view is not universally supported. Brand-centric consultancy Fairwinds and a couple of its clients submitted comments expressing support for the publication of all Initial Evaluation results at once.

January 2013 is an extremely aggressive deadline.

Under the batching-based schedule laid out in the Applicant Guidebook, 1,924 applications would take more like 20 months, not seven, to pass through Initial Evaluation.

NTAG could not find consensus on methods for sequencing applications among its members. Separate submissions from big portfolio applicants including Donuts, Uniregistry, TLDH and Google and smaller, single-bid applicants gave some ideas, however.

Donuts, for example, hasn’t given up on a game-based solution to the sequencing problem – including, really, Rock Paper Scissors – though it seems to favor a system based on timestamping.

The company is among a few to suggest that applications could be prioritized using the least-significant digits of the timestamp they received when they were submitted to ICANN.

An application filed at 15:01:01 would therefore beat an application submitted at 14:02:02, for example.

This idea has been out there for a while, though little discussed. I have to wonder if any applicants timed their submissions accordingly, just in case.

Comments submitted by TLDH, Google and others offer a selection of methods for sequencing bids which includes timestamping as well alphabetical sorting based on the hash value of the applications.

This proposal also supports a “bucketing” approach that would give more or less equal weight to five different types of application – brand, geographic, portfolio, etc.

Uniregistry, uniquely I think, reckons it’s time to get back to random selection, which ICANN abandoned due to California lottery laws. The company said in its comments:

Random selection of applications for review should not present legal issues now, after the application window has closed. While the window was still open, random selection for batches would have given applicants an incentive to file multiple redundant applications, withdrawing all but the application that placed earliest in the random queue and creating a kind of lottery for early slots. Now that no one can file an additional application, that lottery problem is gone.

Given that the comment was drafted by a California lawyer, I can’t help but wonder whether Uniregistry might be onto something.

Many applicants are also asking the GAC to pull its socks up and work on its objections faster.

The GAC currently thinks it can file its official GAC Advice on New gTLDs in about April next year, which doesn’t fit nicely with the January 2013 evaluation deadline some are now demanding.

ICANN should urge the GAC to hold a special inter-sessional meeting to square away its objections some time between Toronto in October and Beijing in April, some commenters say.

ICANN received dozens of responses to its call for comments, and this post only touches on a few themes. A more comprehensive review will be posted on DI PRO tomorrow.

Infodump: what we learned about new gTLDs today

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN held a webinar today in which it detailed a whole lot of the current thinking about the evaluation phase of the new gTLD program, including some new deadlines and target dates.

Senior vice president and acting program head Kurt Pritz fought through a cold to give new gTLD applicants more information and clarification than they’d received since Prague in June.

These are some of the things we learned:

  • Three applications have been withdrawn already. We don’t know which ones.
  • There have been 49 requests to change applications. Again, we don’t know which ones yet. ICANN is in the process of finalizing a threshold check to allow or deny these changes, details of which it expects to publish soon.
  • “Clarifying Questions” are the new buzzword. CQs — yes, they have an acronym — are additional questions the evaluators need to ask applicants before they can score parts of their application. The vast majority of applications are going to get at least one CQ. The two-week deadline to respond to these questions, as described in the Applicant Guidebook, will likely be ignored in many cases.
  • About 90% of applications will get a CQ about their financial status. This mainly concerns their Continuing Operations Instrument, the super-complex and expensive back-up cash commitments each applicant had to secure. But applicants who got letters of credit don’t need to panic if their banks have recently had their ratings downgraded.
  • Another 40% can expect to get questions about their technical plans. Some applicants may have relied too heavily on their back-end providers to describe their security plans, it seems.
  • About half of all geographic gTLD applications have not yet supplied letters of support from the relevant government. This was already anticipated and is accounted for by Guidebook processes however, Pritz said.
  • Don’t expect an answer to the metering question any time soon. Batching may be dead, but ICANN does not expect to figure out its replacement — a way to throttle new gTLDs’ go-live dates — until October. There’s an open comment period on this and plenty more jaw-wagging to come.
  • Objections will come before Initial Evaluation results. This sucks if you’re a likely objector. The deadline for filing objections is January 12, 2013, but evaluation results are not expected until June 2013 at the earliest. This means the much cheaper option of waiting to see if an application is rejected before paying for an objection is no longer a viable strategy. But it’s good for applicants, which will get a little more visibility into their likelihood of success and their costs.
  • Contention sets will probably be revealed in November. The String Similarity Panel, which decides which gTLDs are too similar to each other to co-exist, is not expected to give its results to ICANN until late October, four and a half months after the June 13 Reveal Day — so applicants won’t know the full size of their contention sets until probably a couple of weeks after that.
  • The new gTLD public comment period will probably be extended. After several requests, ICANN is very probably going to give everyone more time to comment on the 1,930 1,927 applications, beyond the August 12 scheduled closing date. An announcement is likely on Friday.

New gTLD timetable expected this week

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN plans to publish a new timetable for its new gTLD program later this week, according to its latest update.

Its board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee said in a report (pdf) published this morning:

The roadmap will show how the separate schedules for evaluation applications, possible dates for GAC [Governmental Advisory Committee] input, comment & objection periods, and other program elements fit together. The plan will demonstrate interdependencies, indicate risk areas, describe schedule uncertainty, and indicate how applicants might be affected by changes to the plan.

The roadmap will be released by the week of August 6, 2012.

New gTLD applicants have been waiting for this report since the Prague meeting in late June, when it became clear that the original timetable, based on application batching and “digital archery”, was dead.

Potential objectors will also be sharply impacted by the timetable; decisions could hit their wallets.

If the window for filing private sector objections closes before the GAC deadline to object, for example, the cheaper wait-for-the-GAC strategy for objecting becomes a non-starter.

Today’s report from ICANN also discloses a little more about how the 1,930 new gTLD applications are being processed: they’re being grouped by applicant and/or by back-end registry provider, in an attempt to create efficiencies.

According to ICANN, this will enable the evaluators to ramp up to a maximum capacity of 300 applications per month, but that it will take a few months to fully ramp up to that speed.

The Initial Evaluation phase of the process began about a month ago, in line with its July 12 target date, ICANN said.

Adding some time for ICANN to organize and publish results, this means that initial evaluation results will be published in 11-12 months after the July 12 start date, i.e., May or June 2013.

With the timetable set to be published this week, the ongoing public comment process about application metering will presumably not have an impact on what is published.

With that in mind, any timetable released this week is unlikely to answer every outstanding question about the timing of go-live dates for successful new gTLD applicants.

New gTLD winners could be named June 2013

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has sketched out a tentative timetable for the evaluation of its new generic top-level domain applications that would see the first successful gTLDs appear over a year from now.

But the plan has little meat on its bones, and ICANN has admitted that it still doesn’t know exactly how the evaluation process is going to pan out.

In a new call for comments, ICANN confirmed that all 1,930 applications are going to be evaluated at the same time, and that the evaluators have already started work.

The winners and losers from Initial Evaluation, ICANN said, could be announced June or July 2013.

This would mean that the first new gTLDs would start going live on the internet “in late third quarter of 2013, six months later than originally expected”, ICANN said.

But which successful applications would start hitting the root first is still wide open to debate.

The idea that the applications would be processed in batches of 500 or thereabouts, is now pretty much dead. That’s been obvious since digital archery was killed off, but it’s now confirmed.

ICANN said it has a “tentative project plan” that “foresees the processing of applications in a single batch, and simultaneous release of results” about a year from now.

But with “batching” dead, we now have a “metering” problem.

Hypothetically, as many as 1,409 unique gTLD applications could emerge successfully from evaluation at the same time, in June or July next year.

That’s the theoretical ceiling; in reality the number will be substantially reduced by withdrawals, objections and contention.

But before any of them can go live the applicants need to negotiate and/or sign registry agreements with ICANN and undergo formal pre-delegation technical testing. That creates two bottlenecks at ICANN in its legal and IANA departments.

ICANN now wants to know how to “meter” successfully evaluated applications, to smooth out the roll-out so that no more than 1,000 new gTLDs are delegated in any given year.

An idea that emerged in Prague was to order applications according to how “clean” they were, as measured many clarifying questions the evaluators had to ask the applicants. But that idea has now been dismissed as “unworkable”, ICANN said.

ICANN’s board of directors had promised to make about three weeks after the Prague meeting – a deadline that passed over a week ago – but it’s now turning to the community for ideas.

Before August 19, it wants to know:

1. Should the metering or smoothing consider releasing evaluation results, and transitioning applications into the contract execution and pre-delegation testing phases, at different times?

a. How can applications be allocated to particular release times in a fair and equitable way?

b. Would this approach provide sufficient smoothing of the delegation rate?

c. Provide reasoning for selecting this approach.

2. Should the metering or smoothing be accomplished by downstream metering of application processing (i.e., in the contract execution, pre-delegation testing or delegation phases)?

a. How can applications be allocated to a particular timing in contract execution, pre-delegation testing, or delegation in a fair and equitable way?

b. Provide reasoning for selecting this approach.

3. Include a statement describing the level of importance that the order of evaluation and delegation has for your application.

My hunch based on conversations in Prague is that the majority answer to question 1 will be “No” and that the majority answer to question 2 will be “Yes”, but that’s just a hunch at this point.