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Infographic — the approved new gTLDs timeline

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors today approved this timetable for the first round of new top-level domain applications.

Also available in PDF format here.

New gTLDs timetable

(click to enlarge)

New gTLD program approved — full resolution

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has approved its new generic top-level domains program and will start accepting applications from companies in January next year.

The vote this morning at the Raffles City Convention Center in Singapore, was 13 in favor, with George Sadowsky voting against.

Bruce Tonkin of registrar Melbourne IT abstained on conflict-of-interest grounds, and Mike Silber abstained because, while generally in favor of the program, he did not believe it was ready yet.

Here’s the resolution in full. I’ll provide commentary later in the day.

Approval of the New gTLD Program

Whereas, on 28 November 2005, the GNSO Council voted unanimously to initiate a policy development process on the introduction of new gTLDs.

Whereas, the GNSO Committee on the Introduction of New gTLDs addressed a range of difficult technical, operational, legal, economic, and policy questions, and facilitated widespread participation and public comment throughout the policy development process.

Whereas, on 6 September 2007, the GNSO Council approved by a supermajority vote a motion supporting the 19 recommendations, as a whole, as set out in the Final Report of the ICANN Generic Names Supporting Organisation on the Introduction of New Generic Top-Level Domains going forward to the ICANN Board (http://gnso.icann.org/issues/new-gtlds/pdp-dec05-fr-parta-08aug07.htm).

Whereas, the Board instructed staff to review the GNSO recommendations and determine whether they were capable of implementation, and staff engaged international technical, operational and legal expertise to support the implementation of the policy recommendations and developed implementation plans for the GNSO’s policy recommendations.

Whereas, on 26 June 2008, the Board adopted the GNSO policy recommendations for the introduction of new gTLDs and directed staff to further develop and complete its detailed implementation plan, continue communication with the community on such work, and provide the Board with a final version of the implementation proposals for the board and community to approve before the launching of the new gTLD application process (http://www.icann.org/en/minutes/resolutions-26jun08.htm#_Toc76113171).

Whereas, staff has made implementation details publicly available in the form of drafts of the gTLD Applicant Guidebook and supporting materials for public discussion and comment.

Whereas, the first draft of the Applicant Guidebook was published on 23 October 2008 , and the Guidebook has undergone continued substantial revisions based on stakeholder input on multiple drafts.

Whereas, the Board has conducted intensive consultations with the Governmental Advisory Committee (including in Brussels in February 2011, in San Francisco in March 2011, by telephone in May 2011, and in Singapore on 19 June 2011), resulting in substantial agreement on a wide range of issues noted by the GAC, and the Board has directed revisions to the Applicant Guidebook to reflect such agreement.

Whereas, ICANN received letters from the United States Department of Commerce and the European Commission addressing the issue of registry-registrar cross-ownership, and the Board considered the concerns expressed therein. The Board agrees that the potential abuse of significant market power is a serious concern, and discussions with competition authorities will continue.

Whereas, ICANN has consulted with the GAC to find mutually acceptable solutions on areas where the implementation of policy is not consistent with GAC advice, and where necessary has identified its reasons for not incorporating the advice in particular areas, as required by the Bylaws; see .

Whereas, the ICANN community has dedicated countless hours to the review and consideration of numerous implementation issues, by the submission of public comments, participation in working groups, and other consultations.

Whereas, the Board has listened to the input that has been provided by the community, including the supporting organizations and advisory committees, throughout the implementation process.

Whereas, careful analysis of the obligations under the Affirmation of Commitments and the steps taken throughout the implementation process indicates that ICANN has fulfilled the commitments detailed in the Affirmation (http://www.icann.org/en/documents/affirmation-of-commitments-30sep09-en.htm).

Whereas, the Applicant Guidebook posted on 30 May 2011 (http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/comments-7-en.htm) includes updates resulting from public comment and from recent GAC advice.

Whereas, the draft New gTLDs Communications Plan forms the basis of the global outreach and education activities that will be conducted leading up to and during the execution of the program in each of the ICANN geographic regions.

Whereas, the Draft FY12 Operating Plan and Budget (http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-17may11-en.htm) includes a New gTLD Program Launch Scenario, and the Board is prepared to approve the expenditures included in Section 7 of the Draft FY12 Operating Plan and Budget.

Whereas, the Board considers an applicant support program important to ensuring an inclusive and diverse program, and will direct work to implement a model for providing support to potential applicants from developing countries.

Whereas, the Board’s Risk Committee has reviewed a comprehensive risk assessment associated with implementing the New gTLD Program, has reviewed the defined strategies for mitigating the identified risks, and will review contingencies as the program moves toward launch.

Whereas, the Board has reviewed the current status and plans for operational readiness and program management within ICANN.

Resolved (2011.06.20.01), the Board authorizes the President and CEO to implement the new gTLD program which includes the following elements:

1. the 30 May 2011 version of the Applicant Guidebook (http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/comments-7-en.htm), subject to the revisions agreed to with the GAC on 19 June 2011, including: (a) deletion of text in Module 3 concerning GAC advice to remove references indicating that future Early Warnings or Advice must contain particular information or take specified forms; (b) incorporation of text concerning protection for specific requested Red Cross and IOC names for the top level only during the initial application round, until the GNSO and GAC develop policy advice based on the global public interest, and (c) modification of the “loser pays” provision in the URS to apply to complaints involving 15 (instead of 26) or more domain names with the same registrant; the Board authorizes staff to make further updates and changes to the Applicant Guidebook as necessary and appropriate, including as the possible result of new technical standards, reference documents, or policies that might be adopted during the course of the application process, and to prominently publish notice of such changes;

2. the Draft New gTLDs Communications Plan as posted at (http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/new-gtlds-communications-plan-30may11-en.pdf), as may be revised and elaborated as necessary and appropriate;

3. operational readiness activities to enable the opening of the application process;

4. a program to ensure support for applicants from developing countries, with a form, structure and processes to be determined by the Board in consultation with stakeholders including: (a) consideration of the GAC recommendation for a fee waiver corresponding to 76 percent of the $185,000 USD evaluation fee, (b) consideration of recommendations of the ALAC and GNSO as chartering organizations of the Joint Applicant Support (JAS) Working Group, (c) designation of a budget of up to $2 million USD for seed funding, and creating opportunities for other parties to provide matching funds, and (d) the review of additional community feedback, advice from ALAC, and recommendations from the GNSO following their receipt of a Final Report from the JAS Working Group (requested in time to allow staff to develop an implementation plan for the Board’s consideration at its October 2011 meeting in Dakar, Senegal), with the goal of having a sustainable applicant support system in place before the opening of the application window;

5. a process for handling requests for removal of cross-ownership restrictions on operators of existing gTLDs who want to participate in the new gTLD program, based on the “Process for Handling Requests for Removal of Cross-Ownership Restrictions for Existing gTLDs” (http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-02may11-en.htm), as modified in response to comments ; consideration of modification of existing agreements to allow cross-ownership with respect to the operation of existing gTLDs is deferred pending further discussions including with competition authorities;

6. the expenditures related to the New gTLD Program as detailed in section 7 of the Draft FY12 Operating Plan and Budget http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-17may11-en.htm); and

7. the timetable as set forth in the attached graphic , elements of which include the New gTLD application window opening on 12 January 2012 and closing on 12 April 2012, with the New gTLD Communications Plan beginning immediately.

Resolved (2011.06.20.02), the Board and the GAC have completed good faith consultations in a timely and efficient manner under the ICANN Bylaws, Article XI, Section 2.j. As the Board and the GAC were not able to reach a mutually acceptable solution on a few remaining issues, pursuant to ICANN Bylaws, Article XI, Section 2.k, the Board incorporates and adopts as set forth in the document describing the remaining areas of difference between ICANN’s Board and the GAC the reasons why the GAC advice was not followed. The Board’s statement is without prejudice to the rights or obligations of GAC members with regard to public policy issues falling within their responsibilities.

Resolved (2011.06.20.03), the Board wishes to express its deep appreciation to the ICANN community, including the members of the GAC, for the extraordinary work it has invested in crafting the New gTLD Program in furtherance of ICANN’s mission and core values, and counts on the community’s ongoing support in executing and reviewing the program.

ICANN plans retreat to regroup under new chair

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors will hold a surprise, unprecedented workshop or retreat next Saturday, to address the “multiple challenges” it faces.

This announcement just appeared on the ICANN web site:

Board Workshop to Prepare for the Future

Given the change in Board leadership and related changes in Board committee assignments and the multiple challenges facing ICANN, the Board will take advantage of the presence of most of the new Board and hold an informal workshop following the close of the ICANN meeting. The primary focus of the workshop will be the challenges facing ICANN and the coordination of Board and management directions.

The workshop is slated for June 25, the day after both the current meeting in Singapore and the chairmanship of Peter Dengate Thrush ends.

Though his replacement has not been named, it’s quite likely that the board already knows who it has selected to fill PDT’s shoes.

The “multiple challenges” ICANN faces could refer to anything from the launch of the new top-level domains program, its increasingly close relationship with its newly empowered Governmental Advisory Committee, or the threat of more US interference with its functions.

Probably all of the above and more.

In addition, the reference to the “coordination of Board and management directions” may well fuel the scurrilous gossip that all is not well between ICANN’s board and its senior staff.

(via @DNSConundrum)

GAC gives ICANN final warning on new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2011, Domain Policy

As ICANN’s 41st meeting begins in Singapore, the Governmental Advisory Committee is sticking to its guns on a number of its outstanding demands on new top-level domains.

GAC chair Heather Dryden said in a Saturday letter to the ICANN board (pdf) that its concerns relating to controversial string objections, trademark protection, and vertical integration have not been satisfactorily addressed.

She also said that the Applicant Guidebook should be amended to protect the trademarks of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Olympics movements, and that developing countries should get support.

The GAC would advise the Board that these issues involve important public policy objectives and, until resolved, also risk gTLD applications being made that conflict with applicable law.

To this end, and notwithstanding the GAC’s wish to avoid any further delay in the new gTLD process, the GAC would advise the Board to ensure that all remaining public policy concerns are properly addressed and adequately respected before the new gTLD application procedure is finalised.

The GAC and board will meet this afternoon in Singapore to discuss these remaining issues.

The ICANN board is due to meet tomorrow morning to consider approving the Applicant Guidebook and the new gTLD program.

Hot topics for ICANN Singapore

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s 41st public meeting kicks off in Singapore on Monday, and as usual there are a whole array of controversial topics set to be debated.

As is becoming customary, the US government has filed its eleventh-hour saber-rattling surprises, undermining ICANN’s authority before its delegates’ feet have even touched the tarmac.

Here’s a high-level overview of what’s going down.

The new gTLD program

ICANN and the Governmental Advisory Committee are meeting on Sunday to see if they can reach some kind of agreement on the stickiest parts of the Applicant Guidebook.

They will fail to do so, and ICANN’s board will be forced into discussing an unfinished Guidebook, which does not have full GAC backing, during its Monday-morning special meeting.

It’s Peter Dengate Thrush’s final meeting as chairman, and many observers believe he will push through some kind of new gTLDs resolution to act as his “legacy”, as well as to fulfill the promise he made in San Francisco of a big party in Singapore.

My guess is that the resolution will approve the program in general, lay down some kind of timetable for its launch, and acknowledge that the Guidebook needs more work before it is rubber-stamped.

I think it’s likely that the days of seemingly endless cycles of redrafting and comment are over for good, however, which will come as a relief to many.

Developing nations

A big sticking point for the GAC is the price that new gTLD applicants from developing nations will have to pay – it wants eligible, needy applicants to get a 76% discount, from $185,000 to $44,000.

The GAC has called this issue something that needs sorting out “as a matter of urgency”, but ICANN’s policy is currently a flimsy draft in desperate need of work.

The so-called JAS working group, tasked with creating the policy, currently wants governmental entities excluded from the support program, which has made the GAC, predictably, unhappy.

The JAS has proven controversial in other quarters too, particularly the GNSO Council.

Most recently, ICANN director Katim Touray, who’s from Gambia, said the Council had been “rather slow” to approve the JAS’s latest milestone report, which, he said:

might well be construed by many as an effort by the GNSO to scuttle the entire process of seeking ways and means to provide support to needy new gTLD applicants

This irked Council chair Stephane Van Gelder, who rattled off a response pointing out that the GNSO had painstakingly followed its procedures as required under the ICANN bylaws.

Watch out for friction there.

Simply, there’s no way this matter can be put to bed in Singapore, but it will be the topic of intense discussions because the new gTLD program cannot sensibly launch without it.

The IANA contract

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration wants to beef up the IANA contract to make ICANN more accountable to the NTIA and, implicitly, the GAC.

Basically, IANA is being leveraged as a way to make sure that .porn and .gay (and any other TLD not acceptable to the world’s most miserable regimes) never make it onto the internet.

If at least one person does not stand up during the public forum on Thursday to complain that ICANN is nothing more than a lackey of the United States, I’d be surprised. My money’s on Khaled Fattal.

Vertical integration

The eleventh hour surprise I referred to earlier.

The US Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, informed ICANN this week that its plan to allow gTLD registries such as VeriSign, Neustar and Afilias to own affiliated registrars was “misguided”.

I found the letter (pdf) utterly baffling. It seems to say that the DoJ would not be able to advise ICANN on competition matters, despite the fact that the letter itself contains a whole bunch of such advice.

The letter has basically scuppered VeriSign’s chances of ever buying a registrar, but I don’t think anybody thought that would happen anyway.

Neustar is likely to be the most publicly annoyed by this, given how vocally it has pursued its vertical integration plans, but I expect Afilias and others will be bugged by this development too.

The DoJ’s position is likely to be backed up by Europe, now that the NTIA’s Larry Strickling and European Commissioner Neelie Kroes are BFFs.

Cybercrime

Cybercrime is huge at the moment, what with governments arming themselves with legions of hackers and groups such as LulzSec and Anonymous knocking down sites like dominoes.

The DNS abuse forum during ICANN meetings, slated for Monday, is usually populated by pissed-off cops demanding stricter enforcement of Whois accuracy.

They’ve been getting louder during recent meetings, a trend I expect to continue until somebody listens.

This is known as “engaging”.

Geek stuff

IPv6, DNSSEC and Internationalized Domain Names, in other words. There are sessions on all three of these important topics, but they rarely gather much attention from the policy wonks.

With IPv6 and DNSSEC, we’re basically looking at problems of adoption. With IDNs, there’s impenetrably technical stuff to discuss relating to code tables and variant strings.

The DNSSEC session is usually worth a listen if you’re into that kind of thing.

The board meeting

Unusually, the board’s discussion of the Guidebook has been bounced to Monday, leading to a Friday board meeting with not very much to excite.

VeriSign will get its .net contract renewed, no doubt.

The report from the GAC-board joint working group, which may reveal how the two can work together less painfully in future, also could be interesting.

Anyway…

Enough of this blather, I’ve got a plane to catch.

Nic.at strikes .hamburg deal

Hamburg Top-Level-Domain GmbH, a potential bidder for the .hamburg top-level domain, has headed across the border into Austria for its registry services provider.

The company has signed up to use Nic.at, currently the registry for the .at country-code TLD, according to a press release.

The initiative appears to be looking for money at the moment.

dotHamburg’s chief executive Oliver Süme said: “The knowledge that the technical side of things is in safe hands is an important criteria for potential investors looking to invest in .hamburg.”

The company will also need to secure the support of Hamburg’s local government, given the recent changes to ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

M+M gets into bed with Neustar

Minds + Machines has committed to use Neustar’s registry services for some of its new top-level domain applications, the companies have announced.

M+M parent Top Level Domain Holdings said in a press release that the companies:

will work together exclusively in respect of all geographic gTLDs pursued by TLDH, apart from a short list of those already in progress. TLDH will oversee sales, marketing, registrar relations, ICANN compliance and other management functions, while Neustar will provide back-end registry and DNS services.

The deal may cover applications including .bayern, .berlin, and .mumbai, judging from the press release.

M+M will continue to use Espresso, its version of the CoCCA registry platform, for non-geo TLDs.

Under ICANN rules, geographical TLDs will require the support of the respective governments.

Reading between the lines, it appears that demand for proven scale and financial stability may have been the primary driver for the deal.

Neustar manages .us and biz, among others, while M+M has a far shorter track record. Neustar has annual revenue of over half a billion dollars, compared to TLDH’s approximately $100,000.

US resurrects the controversial new TLDs veto

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government intends to give itself greater oversight powers over ICANN’s new top-level domains program, according to a partial draft of the next IANA contract.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has proposed what amounts to a Governmental Advisory Committee veto over controversial new TLDs.

The agency last night published a Further Notice Of Inquiry (pdf), which includes a proposed Statement Of Work that would form part of ICANN’s next IANA contract.

The IANA contract, which is up for renewal September 30, gives ICANN many of its key powers over the domain name system’s root database.

The new documents seem to fulfill NTIA assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling’s promise to use the IANA contract “as a vehicle for ensuring more accountability and transparency” at ICANN.

If the new draft provisions are finalized, ICANN would be contractually obliged to hold new gTLD applicants to a higher standard than currently envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook.

The FNOI notes that the US believes (my emphasis):

there is a need to address how all stakeholders, including governments collectively, can operate within the paradigm of a multi-stakeholder environment and be satisfied that their interests are being adequately addressed

The Statement Of Work, under the heading “Responsibility and Respect for Stakeholders” includes new text that addresses this perceived need:

For delegation requests for new generic TLDS (gTLDs), the Contractor [ICANN] shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.

The current Applicant Guidebook does not require “consensus support from relevant stakeholders” before a new gTLD is approved.

It gives applicants the opportunity to show support from self-defined communities, and it gives communities the right to object to any application, but it does not require consensus.

Earlier this year, the GAC asked ICANN to beef up the Guidebook to make community support or non-objection a proactive requirement for applicants, but ICANN declined to make the change.

The .xxx Factor

The NTIA’s proposed “respect rule” alludes to the approval of .xxx, which the US and other governments believe was both not in the global public interest and unsupported by the porn industry.

Had the rule been applicable in March, ICANN could very well have found itself in breach of the IANA contract, and the NTIA could have been within its rights to block the TLD.

One way to look at this is as a US government safeguard against ICANN’s board of directors overruling GAC objections to new TLDs in future.

The Guidebook currently gives the GAC the right to object to any application for any reason, such as if it believed a proposed string was not supported by a community it purported to represent.

But the Guidebook, reflecting ICANN’s bylaws, also gives ICANN the ability to disagree with GAC advice (including its new TLD objections) and essentially overrule it.

Under the NTIA’s proposed IANA contract language, if ICANN were to overrule a GAC objection to a controversial application, the NTIA would be able to claim that the gTLD was approved without stakeholder consensus, in violation of the IANA contract.

The new gTLD program would have, in essence, a backdoor GAC veto.

While these changes are being made unilaterally by the US, they are certain to be supported by the European Commission and probably other members of the GAC.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes urged Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke to block or delay .xxx back in April, and subsequently met with Strickling to discuss their mutual opposition to the TLD.

Kroes and Strickling seem to agree agree that ICANN should not have signed the .xxx registry contract over the (weak, non-consensus) objection of the GAC.

The FNOI will shortly open for 45 days of public comment, so we’re not likely to know precisely how this is going to play out in the new IANA contract until August.

ICANN is now in the tricky position of trying to figure out how to incorporate this mess into the Guidebook, which it has indicated it plans to approve just over a week from now.

Singapore is going to be very interesting indeed.

Second .music applicant is Demand Media partner

Far Further has come out as the second company to say it plans to apply to ICANN for the .music top-level domain.

It’s also, I believe, the first applicant to reveal that it has partnered with Demand Media registrar eNom for its back-end registry services.

Far Further is one of a number of likely applicants for .music. The only other applicant to go public to date is Constantine Roussos’ dotMusic.

The new company is headed by former Warner Music record producer Loren Balman, CEO, and former music journalist John Styll, president. Former PIR chief Alexa Raad of Architelos is advising.

Far Further says its .music will “provide the global music community a secure identifying Internet address that supports the promotion of music, the protection of intellectual property rights, and the advancement of global access to music education.”

It’s my belief that the successful .music applicant will be the one that can secure the support of organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America and its overseas counterparts.

The RIAA’s concerns about piracy spreading through .music domains, however misplaced, suggest that any other applicant is likely to find itself on the receiving end of objections, if not lawsuits.

Support from such organizations would also be critical to any bid that plans to invoke a Community Priority Evaluation — a trump card that well-supported applications can play in the ICANN process.

Perhaps the most interesting revelation about Far Further is the company’s selection of eNom, and its Shared Registry System, as its back-end technology services provider.

eNom is of course the world’s second-largest domain name registrar, with over 11 million domains under management, but it has yet to enter the registry services market.

There’s still a bit of a question mark over eNom’s ability to pass ICANN’s background checks, due to its UDRP losses, but this may not be a problem if it is merely the back-end provider, rather than the applicant itself.

ICANN hiring CSRs for new TLD program

ICANN has advertised for four new staff to support its new generic top-level domains program.

The organization is looking for three Lead Application Coordinators, to be based in Marina Del Rey, Hong Kong and Brussels, and one Application Coordinator for Marina Del Rey.

The roles are all fairly similar – essentially senior customer support representatives for new gTLD applicants. The lead positions require more than five years call center experience and a university degree.

With the number of applicants in the first round expected to be around the 400 mark, I think that’s a pretty solid ratio of CSRs to applicants, assuming the application process runs smoothly.

The hiring move is obviously a pretty strong indication that ICANN expects the new gTLD program to kick off fairly soon.

ICANN has also recently started advertising for a vice president of Europe, which I believe is a new position. It currently has 18 open positions in total, according to its hiring page.