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New gTLD batching: should .brands go first?

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2011, Domain Policy

Should “.brand” and “.city” top-level domain applicants get priority treatment when ICANN picks which new gTLDs get to go live first?

That’s the worry in the domain name industry this week, in the wake of rumors about ICANN’s latest thinking on “batching” applications into a processing queue.

ICANN has said it will not process more than 500 applications at a time, but this may well be a low-ball estimate of how many it will actually receive in the first round.

Depending on how many companies decide to pull the trigger on .brand or .keyword applications, we could be looking at three times that number.

Random selection is probably a non-starter due to the risk of falling foul of US gambling laws, and ICANN has already ruled out an auction.

It’s likely that there will be a way to “opt out” of the first batch for applicants not particularly concerned about time-to-market, senior staff said at ICANN’s meeting in Dakar last month.

But the rumor doing the rounds this week is that the organization is thinking about prioritizing uncontested applications – gTLDs with a single applicant – into earlier batches.

This would mean that .brand and .city gTLDs would probably find themselves in the first batches, while contested generics such as .web and .music would be processed later.

It’s just a rumor at this point, but it’s one I’ve heard from a few sources. It also got an airing during Neustar’s #gtldchat Twitter conflab this evening.

Any gTLD purporting to represent a geographic location will need an endorsement from the relevant local government, which will lead to most geo-gTLD being uncontested.

Most, but perhaps not all, .brands are also likely to be uncontested, due to the relative uniqueness of the brand names with the resources to apply.

On the other hand, potentially lucrative strings such as .web, .blog, and .music will almost certainly have multiple applicants and will require lengthier processing cycles.

With a de facto prioritization of .brands and .cities, ICANN could put a bunch of gTLDs into the root, proving the new gTLD concept and giving it time to bulk up on experienced staff, before the whole thing sinks into a quagmire of objections, trademark gaming and spurious litigation.

I can see how that might be attractive option.

I’m not sure if it would solve the problem, however. If we’re looking at 1,500 applications, that’s three batches, so it would not be as simple as dividing them into contested and uncontested piles.

Of course, nobody knows how many applications will be submitted, and what the mix will be. It’s a very difficult problem to tackle in the dark.

What do you think? Should the contested status of a gTLD be used as a criterion for batching purposes?

Companies that can’t apply for .brand gTLDs say they have decided not to apply for .brand gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2011, Domain Policy

Hewlett-Packard and Proctor & Gamble have ruled themselves out of applying to ICANN for .brand top-level domains, or so they claim.

Bloomberg yesterday reported a distinct lack of enthusiasm for new gTLDs from many large brands, leading with quotes from P&G and HP:

P&G, the world’s largest consumer products company with more than 50 brands including Tide detergent, Pampers diapers and Crest toothpaste, won’t apply for new suffixes, said Paul Fox, a spokesman. HP, the biggest computer maker, considers the program costly and has no plans to take part, said Gary Elliott, vice president of global marketing.

“A lot of companies are looking at the same math as we are and saying, ‘Let’s stop this proposal from happening,’” Elliott said in an interview. “There’s a tremendous amount of confusion about what this means and what the costs are.”

HP’s Elliot is chairman of the Association of National Advertisers, the most vocal opponent of the new gTLD program, as the Bloomberg report notes.

One fact the report doesn’t mention – and I’d bet Elliot didn’t volunteer – is that HP and P&G cannot apply for .hp or .pg due to ICANN’s strict three-character minimum for new gTLD strings.

HP had campaigned for ICANN to scrap the two-character prohibition for a number of years, though it usually also noted that in principle it was opposed to the program.

Nevertheless, it strikes me as disingenuous for the company to say it’s decided against a .brand on the basis of cost, when ICANN essentially made its decision for it years ago.

P&G, which mostly makes cosmetics and toiletries, has also ruled out applying for gTLDs to represent any of its 50 or so well-known brands, Bloomberg reported.

The internet will have to go without .tampax and .pampers for the foreseeable future.

General Motors, Wal-Mart, Adobe, Porsche, Vodafone and Puma are all generally negative on the program but are still evaluating their options, according to Bloomberg.

It’s quite possible that these outfits are just as opposed to the new gTLD program as HP and P&G.

But if they’ve been talking to consultants, they will also have been advised not to publicly talk about their applications. Nothing can be gained by going public before April 12.

Afilias to apply for Chinese .info

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2011, Domain Registries

Afilias has announced that it plans to apply for the traditional and simplified Chinese script equivalents of .info under ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.

The company becomes the last of the Big Three registries to give a glimpse into its new gTLD strategy.

VeriSign has said it wants transliterations of .com in multiple scripts, while Neustar has said it plans to apply for its own dot-brand, .neustar.

Afilias did not disclose the exact strings it wants in its announcement. There was no mention of .mobi, which the company also runs.

According to the last official count, there are close to 7.9 million registered .info domains. Marketing director Roland LaPlante said in September that about 19% host unique web sites.

CADNA calls for second new gTLDs round in 2012

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2011, Domain Policy

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse wants ICANN to name the date for its second new top-level domains application round, and suggested that it could come as early as one year from now.

President Josh Bourne told DI that the lobbyist, a long-time opponent of new gTLDs, has “switched gears”, taking a more pragmatic position since the program was approved in June.

“It’s not just about big companies at this point,” he said. “We’ve got hundreds of entrepreneurs and governments planning to apply for a range of gTLDs, – .wales, .london, .paris, .health, .green, .eco…”

“It’s not just about brands, so to cancel the policy now, that’s just never going to happen,” he said.

Bourne said that CADNA’s policy shift created a vacuum of opposition that was quickly filled by groups such as the Association of National Advertisers, which is now loudly demanding that the program be killed off or delayed indefinitely.

CADNA is not aligned with the ANA. Instead, it intends to write to ICANN soon to ask it to start planning for the second round already, saying this would help relieve the pressure on businesses.

“The best thing they could do for businesses and other applicants like entrepreneurs is to say ‘We’ve got the first round planned for January 12 to April 12, we’re going to tell the world right now that we’re going to have a vote in Costa Rica in March to approve a plan to have the second round in the fall of 2012′,” Bourne said.

He admitted that he doesn’t know if late 2012 is feasible – ICANN expects to still be early in the evaluation process for the first round at that time – but suggested that the windfall from first-round fees will be sufficient to ramp up bandwidth.

The lack of a second-round date is forcing companies to act quickly on new gTLDs with no idea whether they really want or need them. No company wants to be left behind for years or perhaps forever if their competitors are successfully exploiting their new gTLDs.

“People in businesses thinking of applying mainly do so not because they have a grand scheme, it’s because they’re scared,” he said.

“For the most part they’re getting accustomed to the notion that they’re buying an option, the right to use it in 2013 if other companies are using them,” he added.

The reason ICANN has not yet said when a second round will be offered is its commitment to review the impact of the first round before accepting any more applications.

The Applicant Guidebook currently states:

ICANN has committed to reviewing the effects of the New gTLD Program on the operations of the root zone system after the first application round, and will defer the delegations in a second application round until it is determined that the delegations resulting from the first round did not jeopardize root zone system security or stability.

That paragraph was added in April, following consultations between ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee, which based its demands on ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments.

The AoC, which was based in part on feedback from businesses and IP interests, also calls for a more substantial review of the program, taking into account consumer choice and abuse.

GAC new gTLD veto refuses to die

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee seems to be trying yet again to resurrect the government right of veto over controversial new top-level domain applications.

The GAC has proposed changes to the new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook that – at least on the face of it – would remove ICANN’s power to overrule GAC objections.

The changes would also make it much more likely that a gTLD application could be killed off due to the objections of a single nation.

If adopted, they would also make the already unpredictable process of anticipating the result of GAC objections considerably more ambiguous.

The supposedly “complete” Guidebook published by ICANN last month currently includes a warning that the GAC is working on its objecting rules, and that these will be included in future.

The GAC Communique (pdf) issued at the ICANN meeting in Dakar on Friday includes these proposed rules as an annex, and they’re not great if you’re a likely new gTLD applicant.

Consensus objections

If the GAC issues a consensus objection to an application, the Guidebook currently states that a “strong presumption” would be created that the application should fail.

But ICANN’s board would be able to overrule it with a so-called “Bylaws consultation”, the same process it used to approve .xxx earlier this year.

In its proposed revisions, the GAC inexplicably wants to delete the references to the Bylaws consultation.

My understanding is that the GAC is not proposing a change to the Bylaws, so the right of the board to initiate a consultation and overrule a GAC objection would still exist.

But the GAC seems to be asking for applicants to be given far less information about that process than they need, making its own powers appear greater than they are.

This could raise the psychological barrier to initiating a Bylaws consultation and create the perception that a consensus GAC objection always kills an application, which may not be the case.

The Dakar communique defines GAC consensus as “the practice of adopting decisions by general agreement in the absence of any formal objection”, which creates its own set of worries.

Non-consensus objections

A much bigger change is proposed to the way ICANN handles GAC “concerns” about an application.

This is GAC code for a non-consensus objection, where one or more governments has a problem with an application but the GAC as a whole cannot agree to object.

This is the objection mechanism that will very likely capture applications for gTLDs such as .gay, but it could basically cover any string for any reason.

Using the Guidebook’s current wording, there would be no presumption that this kind of application should be rejected. It would be in ICANN’s discretion to initiate a Bylaws consultation.

But the GAC wants something that sounds rather a lot like a Bylaws consultation made mandatory.

“The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns,” it says. “The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.”

This basically means that an application for .gay that was objected to by just two or three governments would have to undergo the pretty much the same level of scrutiny as .xxx did.

The political pressure on ICANN to kill the application would be much more intense than it would under the Guidebook’s current rules.

Here’s a table of the GAC’s proposed changes.

Applicant GuidebookGAC Proposed Text
I. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for ICANN that the application should not be approved. In the event that the ICANN Board determines to approve an application despite the consensus advice of the GAC,
pursuant to the ICANN Bylaws, the GAC and the ICANN Board will then try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the event the Board determines not to accept the GAC Advice, the Board will provide a rationale for its decision.
l. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for the ICANN Board that the application should not be approved.
II. The GAC provides advice that indicates that some governments are concerned about a particular application. Such advice will be passed on to the applicant but will not create the presumption that the application should be denied, and such advice would not require the Board to undertake the process for attempting to find a mutually acceptable solution with the GAC should the application be approved. Note that in any case, that the Board will take seriously any other advice that GAC might provide and will consider
entering into dialogue with the GAC to understand the
scope of the concerns expressed.
ll. The GAC advises ICANN that there are concerns about a particular application "dot-example". The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.
II. The GAC advises ICANN that an application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed. If there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing government approval), that action may be taken. However, material amendments to applications are generally prohibited and if there is no remediation method available, the application will not go forward and the applicant can re-apply in the second round.lll. The GAC advises ICANN that a particular application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed unless there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing one or more government’s approval) that is implemented by the applicant.

In summary, the GAC wants to give more weight to fringe objections and to make the whole process potentially much more confusing for applicants.

I can’t see ICANN sensibly adding the GAC’s text to the Guidebook without at the very least some edits for clarity.