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Could the next new gTLD round last 25 years? Or 70 years?

Kevin Murphy, July 13, 2017, Domain Policy

Will the next new gTLD round see 25,000 applications? If so, how long will it take for them all to go live?

The 25,000 figure is one that I’ve heard touted a few times, most recently during public sessions at ICANN’s meeting in Johannesburg last month.

The problem is that, judging by ICANN’s previous performance, such a huge number of applications would take anywhere from 25 to 70 years to process.

It’s unclear to me where the 25,000 application estimate comes from originally, but it does not strike me as laughably implausible.

There were just shy of 1,930 applications for 1,408 unique strings in the most recent round.

There could have been so many more.

ICANN’s outreach campaign is generally considered to have been a bit lackluster, particularly in developing markets, so many potential applicants were not aware of the opportunity.

In addition, some major portfolio applicants chose to rein in their ambitions.

Larry Page, then-CEO of Google, is known to have wanted to apply for many, many more than the 101 Google wound up applying for, but was talked down by staff.

There’s talk of pent-up demand for dot-brands among those companies that missed the 2012 window, but it’s impossible to know the scale of that demand with any precision.

Despite the fact that a handful of dot-brands with ICANN registry agreements and delegations have since cancelled their contracts, there’s no reason they could not reapply for defensive purposes again in subsequent rounds.

There are also thousands of towns and cities with populations comparable to cities that applied in 2012 that could apply next time around.

And there’s a possibility that the cost of applying — set at $185,000 on a highly redundant “cost recovery” basis — may come down in the next round.

Lots of other factors will play a role in how many applications we see, but in general it doesn’t seem impossible that there could be as many as 25,000.

Assuming for a moment that there are 25,000, how long will that take to process?

In the 2012 round, ICANN said it would delegate TLDs at a rate of no more than 1,000 per year. So that’s at least 25 years for a 25,000-app round.

That rate was set somewhat arbitrarily during discussions about root zone scaling before anyone knew how many gTLDs would be applied for and estimates were around the 500 mark.

Essentially, the 1,000-per-year number was floated as a sort of straw man (or “straw person” as some ICANNers have it nowadays) so the technical folk had a basis to figure out whether the root system could withstand such an influx.

Of course, this limit will have to be revised significantly if ICANN has any hope of processing 25,000 applications in under a generation.

Discussions at the time indicated that the rate of change, not the size of the root zone, was what represented the stability threat.

In reality, the rate of delegation has been significantly slower than 1,000 per year.

It took until May 2016 for the 1,000th new gTLD to go live, 945 days after the first batch were delegated in late October 2013.

That means that during the relative “rush-hour” of new gTLD delegations, there was still only a little over one per day on average.

And that’s counting from the date of the first delegation, which was actually 18 months after the application window was closed.

If that pattern held in subsequent rounds, we would be looking at about 70 years for a batch of 25,000 to make their way through the system.

You could apply for a vanity gTLD matching your family name and leave the delegation as a gift to your great-grandchildren, long after your death.

Clearly, with 25,000 applications some significant process efficiencies — including, I fancy, much more automation — would be in order.

Currently, IANA’s process for making changes to root zone records (including delegations) is somewhat complex and has multiple manual steps. And that’s before Verisign makes the actual change to the master root zone file.

But the act of delegation is only the final stage of processing a gTLD application.

First, applications that typically run into tens of thousands of words have to undergo Initial Evaluation by several teams of knowledgeable consultants.

From Reveal Day in 2012 to the final IE being published in 2014 took a little over two years, or an average of 2.5 applications per day.

Again, we’re looking at over a quarter of a century just to conduct IE on 25,000 applications.

Then there’s contracting — ICANN’s lawyers would have to sign off on about a dozen Registry Agreements per day if it wanted to process 25,000 delegations in just five years.

Not to mention there’s also pre-delegation testing, contention resolution, auctions, change requests, objections…

There’s a limited window to file objections and there were many complaints, largely from governments, that this period was far too short to read through just 1,930 applications.

A 25,000-string round could take forever, and ICANN’s policies and processes would have to be significantly revised to handle them in a reasonable timeframe.

Then again, potential applicants might view the 2012 round as a bust and the next round could be hugely under-subscribed.

There’s no way of knowing for sure, unfortunately.

InternetNZ wants to fire two of its three (!) CEOs

InternetNZ, the .nz ccTLD operator, is proposing a radical simplification of the organization in order to stay relevant in the age of new gTLDs.

A proposal put forward late last week would see the non-profit organization fold its two subsidiaries back into the parent and consolidate management under a single CEO.

Currently, InternetNZ owns Domain Name Commission Limited (DNCL), the .nz policy oversight body, and NZRS Limited, which actually runs the registry. Each of the three entities has its own CEO.

The new proposal describes the situation like this:

Our governance and management structures are cumbersome and a lack of single point of accountability makes it difficult to progress work across the group. The size of governance groups and management resource is out of proportion to the size of the organisation and the size of the issues it is dealing with. There are 20 governors, three chief executives and around 10 senior executives for the 35 FTE [Full Time Employees] across the three organisations.

The New Zealand organization needs to streamline, according to the working group that came up with the paper, in order to more effectively compete with the influx of new TLDs, which has seen ccTLDs see slowing growth.

.nz is one of the few ccTLDs that has a direct new gTLD competitor — .kiwi.

It also wants to diversify its revenue streams outside of domain registration fees, according to the paper, with a target of NZD 1 million ($720,000) from alternate sources by 2020.

As a member-based organization, InternetNZ has put the proposal out for public comment until June 30. It will make a decision in August.

DENIC gets approved for registry escrow

DENIC is now able to offer data escrow services to gTLD registries, in addition to registrars.

The non-profit company, which runs Germany’s .de, said it gained ICANN approval for the registry escrow function June 6.

Back in March, ICANN approved it for the registrar escrow services.

All ICANN-accredited registries and registrars are contractually obliged to deposit their registrant data with escrow agents in case they go out of business, go rogue, suffer catastrophic data loss, or otherwise screw up.

Nine companies have been approved by ICANN for registry data escrow so far.

Two of others are based in Europe, but DENIC claims to be the only one that offers full compliance with the more stringent German and European Union data protection regulations.

ICANN finds no conflict of interest in .sport decision

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has rejected claims that the .sport gTLD contention set was settled by an arbitrator who had undisclosed conflicts of interest with the winning applicant.

Its Board Governance Committee last week decided that Community Objection arbitrator Guido Tawil had no duty to disclose his law firm’s ties to major sports broadcasters when he effectively eliminated Famous Four Media from its fight with SportAccord.

Back in 2013, SportAccord — an applicant backed by pretty much all of the world’s major sporting organizations — won the objection when Tawil ruled that FFM’s fully commercial, open-registration bid could harms its members interests.

FFM complained with Requests for Reconsideration, Ombudsman complaints and then an Independent Review Process complaint.

It discovered, among other things, that Tawil’s law firm was helping broadcaster DirecTV negotiate with the International Olympic Committee (one of SportAccord’s backers) for Olympics broadcasting rights at the time of the Community Objection.

The IRP panel ruled in February this year that the BGC had failed to take FFM’s allegations of Tawil’s “apparent bias” into account when it processed Reconsideration requests back in 2013 and 2014.

So the BGC reopened the two Reconsideration decisions, looking at whether Tawil was required by International Bar Association guidelines to disclosed his firm’s client’s interests.

In a single decision (pdf) late last week, the BGC said that he was not required to make these disclosures.

In each of the three claims of bias, the BGC found that the connections between Tawil and the alleged conflict were too tenuous to have required disclosure under the IBA rules.

It found that the IOC and SportAccord are not “affiliates” under the IBA definition, which requires some kind of cross-ownership interests, even though the IOC is, judging by the .sport application, SportAccord’s most valued supporter.

The BGC also found that because Tawil’s firm was representing DirecTV, rather than the IOC, the relationship did not technically fall within the disclosure guidelines.

For these and other reasons, the BGC rejected FFM’s Reconsideration requests for a second time.

The decision, and the fact that FFM seems to have exhausted ICANN’s appeals mechanisms, means it is now more likely that SportAccord’s application will be allowed to continue negotiating its .sport Registry Agreement with ICANN, where it has been frozen for years.

.xyz sets price for numeric domains at $0.65

XYZ.com has announced that it will charge just $0.65 wholesale for over a billion numeric domain names in .xyz.

The revelation came as part of a confusing launch of what the registry calls its “1.111B Class” domains.

That’s because the pricing affects all 1.111 billion numerical domains of six, seven, eight and nine digits in .xyz.

These will now all register and renew for $0.65 or a recommended $0.99 retail.

That’s the same price that regular alphanumeric .xyz domains are selling at at many registrars, but the pricing for the 1.111B names is said to be fixed forever; it’s not a temporary promotion.

The announcement was themed on a take on the 16-year-old “All Your Base” meme and a white paper (pdf) written in the color scheme and typeface of a 1990s Unix terminal.

There’s a whole lot of fluff involved, but the gist of it appears to be that XYZ thinks these domains have value, when registered in bulk, to do stuff like address “Internet of Things” devices. The white paper states:

With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), the 1.111B Class serves as a platform to easily and uniquely identify different devices, ranging from laptops to smart thermostats. In fact, registrants can even secure tens, hundreds, thousands to millions of domains in sequential order to create a block. These blocks can match device serial numbers or vehicle VIN numbers, then be used as portals for consumers to connect with their products, and for their products to receive updates from manufacturers.

There are of course far cheaper ways to go about this, such as using subdomains of an existing branded domain (which would have the added benefit of semantic value).

XYZ also talks in vague terms about these cheap domains being similar to Bitcoin, with reference to how Chinese domainers trade worthless domains as a kind of virtual currency.

I must confess I don’t get this idea at all. In my mind, owning a domain that has no possibility of an end-user buyer is more of a liability that an asset.

Still, it’s interesting to see a registry attempting to market domains for non-traditional purposes, so I’m curious to see how it plays out.