The ICANN board of directors is wondering whether the next new gTLD application round should kick off sooner than expected.
Chair Steve Crocker reached out to the Generic Names Supporting Organization this week to ask whether the next round could start before all GNSO policy work has been completed.
Or, he asked, are there any “critical issues” that need to be resolved before ICANN starts accepting more applications.
Akram Atallah, head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, said in May that 2020 is the earliest the next round could feasibly begin, but Crocker’s letter this week (pdf) suggests that that date could be brought forward.
Crocker asked “whether a future application process could proceed while policy work continues”.
There are a number of reviews that ICANN has committed to carry about before the next round starts.
There’s a consumer choice, competition and trust survey to be completed, for example, and a review of trademark protection mechanisms.
Atallah said in may that these would likely be complete by the end of 2017.
But the GNSO is also conducting policy work designed to highlight flaws and inefficiencies in the current 2012 and recommend changes and improvements.
It’s this so-called GNSO Policy Development Process (PDP) Working Group on New gTLD Subsequent Procedures (or NewgTLD-WG) that Crocker is interested in. He wrote:
assuming all other review activities are completed, it would be helpful to understand whether the GNSO believes that the entirety of the current Subsequent Procedures PDP must be completed prior to advancing a new application process under the current policy recommendations. The Board is cognizant that it may be difficult to provide a firm answer at this stage of the process as the reviews are still underway and the PDP is in its initial stages of work, but if any consideration has been given in relation to whether a future application process could proceed while policy work continues and be iteratively applied to the process for allocating new gTLDs, or that a set of critical issues could be identified to be addressed prior to a new application process, the Board would welcome that input.
The current plan for the NewgTLD-WG is to wrap up two years from now, in the third quarter of 2018 (though this may be optimistic).
Members of the group seem to think that we’re looking at a post-2020 next round with 10,000 to 15,000 applications.
It’s difficult to imagine a second round (or fourth, if you’re a pedant) beginning a whole lot earlier than 2020, given the snail’s pace ICANN and its community moves at.
The WG was chartered over half a year ago and the conversations going on are still at a depressingly high level.
Perhaps Crocker’s letter is an early indication that board will not be the significant drag factor on the process.
ICANN has published an analysis of the many ways in which the first round of the new gTLD program wasted everyone’s time and money.
The 200-page “New gTLD Program Implementation Review” is essentially a long list of ways the program could have been better, along with dozens of recommendations for possible future changes.
It’s for the most part a fairly dry read, and it is probably not as comprehensive as it could be, but it will be required reading for anyone working on policy concerning, or thinking of applying during, the second application round.
It concludes, for example, that maybe there should be a right to appeal inconsistent objection rulings.
It ponders aloud whether the Community Priority Evaluation should be scrapped or revised.
It wonders whether dot-brands, or other categories of gTLD, should get their own version of the standard Registry Agreement.
There’s also some discussion about the possibility of making the evaluation stage more efficient by grouping applications by applicant or back-end service provider, which would streamline the process but complicate the prioritization queues.
I count 48 “lessons learned” in the document, but as a concise summary covering over three years of the program, it’s necessarily somewhat light on detail.
On my first read, a few omissions jumped out at me.
There’s no discussion at all of the cybersquatting component of the background screening process, for example. Nor is there any mention of Geographic Name Review shortcomings highlighted by the recent .africa Independent Review Process case.
Also, in my view the document goes way too easy on the Governmental Advisory Committee.
That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure almost everyone who reads it will notice something lacking.
That’s why it’s now open for public comment.
The document is expected to be used as part of the review leading into the second application round, which somehow seems more distant with each passing day.
If there are any companies clamoring to get on the new gTLD bandwagon, they’ve got some waiting to do.
Based on a sketchy timetable published by ICANN this week, it seems unlikely that a second application round will open before 2017, and even that might be optimistic.
While ICANN said that “based on current estimates, a subsequent application round is not expected to launch until 2016 at the earliest”, that date seems unlikely even to senior ICANN staffers.
“The possibility exists,” ICANN vice president Cyrus Namazi told DI, “but the probability, from my perspective, is not that high when you think about all the pieces that have to come together.”
Here’s an ICANN graphic illustrating these pieces:
As you can see, the two biggest time-eaters on the road-map, pushing it into 2017, are a GNSO Policy Development Process (green) and the Affirmation of Commitments Review (yellow).
The timetable envisages the PDP, which will focus on what changes need to be made to the program, lasting two and a half years, starting in the first quarter 2015 and running until mid-2017.
That could be a realistic time-frame, but the GNSO has been known to work quicker.
An ICANN study in 2012 found that 263 days is the absolute minimum amount of time a PDP has to last from start to finish, but 620 days — one year and nine months — is the average.
So the GNSO could, conceivably, wrap up in late 2016 rather than mid-2017. It will depend on how cooperative everybody is feeling and how tricky it is to find consensus on the issues.
The AoC review, which will focus on “competition, consumer trust and consumer choice” is a bit harder to gauge.
The 2009 Affirmation of Commitments is ICANN’s deal with the US government that gives it some of its authority over the DNS. On the review, it states:
If and when new gTLDs (whether in ASCII or other language character sets) have been in operation for one year, ICANN will organize a review that will examine the extent to which the introduction or expansion of gTLDs has promoted competition, consumer trust and consumer choice, as well as effectiveness of (a) the application and evaluation process, and (b) safeguards put in place to mitigate issues involved in the introduction or expansion.
The AoC does not specify how long the review must last, just when it must begin, though it does say the ICANN board must react to it within six months.
That six-month window is a maximum, however, not a minimum. The board could easily take action on the review’s findings in a month or less.
ICANN’s timeline anticipates the review itself taking a year, starting in Q3 2015 and broken down like this:
Based on the timelines of previous Review Team processes, a rough estimate for this process is that the convening of the team occurs across 3-5 months, a draft report is issued within 6-9 months, and a final report is issued within 3-6 months from the draft.
Working from these estimates, it seems that the review could in fact take anywhere from 12 to 20 months. That would mean a final report would be delivered between September 2016 and July 2017.
If the review and board consideration of its report take the longest amount of time permitted or envisaged, the AoC process might not complete until early 2018, a little over three years from now.
Clearly there are a lot of variables to consider here.
Namazi is probably on safe ground by urging caution over the hypothetical launch of a second round in 2016.
Given than new gTLD evaluations were always seen as a “rolling” process, one of the things that the GNSO surely needs to look into is a mechanism to reduce the delay between rounds.
ICANN chair Steve Crocker has said that the second round of new generic top-level domain applications will open years from now, but “not a large number of years”.
He made the comments during an interview with ICANN’s head of media relations Brad White after the ICANN public meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica closed on Friday.
“We can’t pin it down with any certainty but we can make a rough estimate,” Crocker said. “It’s time measured from here in years but not a large number of years, it’s probably a small number of years but I can’t pin it down greater than that because we’re running an experiment.”
He reiterated that the first round applications need to be processed and a number of reviews need to take place before the second round opens.
He said ICANN should have a better idea how long the first of these two prerequisites will take after the application window closes April 12.
The Governmental Advisory Committee reiterated its demands for a review of the first round in its Advice document on Friday.
The earliest I believe a second round could open based on what we currently know is 2015, but many other domain industry players think 2017 is more likely.
I think the date will depend to an extent on the changing balance of tensions in the the ICANN community over the next couple of years.
If there’s a strong demand for a second round from business and intellectual property stakeholders, the necessary rights protection reviews may not be as long and drawn-out as many expect.
Crocker also said during the interview that Rod Beckstrom’s replacement as president and CEO will likely be announced in May.
Seeking to reduce the perceived need for defensive new gTLD applications, ICANN has repeated its promise to accept a second round of applications after the first is over.
“ICANN is committed to opening a second application window for the New gTLD Program as expeditiously as possible,” its board of directors resolved earlier this week.
No date has been revealed, but the resolution calls on ICANN staff to draft a “work plan” describing the things that need to happen before the second round begins.
Those include two or three reviews of the impact of the first round that ICANN has promised to its Governmental Advisory Committee and the US Department of Commerce.
It also depends to great extent on how many applications are submitted in the first round – which ICANN won’t know until April 12 – and how long they take to process.
The lack of a second round date is one of the big uncertainties hanging over the program, blamed in part for an expected influx of “defensive” dot-brand gTLD applications from companies with no interest in running a domain name registry.
ICANN’s commitment to a second round has never been in question – running the new gTLD program in rounds has been part of the policy from the outset, as the Applicant Guidebook explains. The only question is when it happens.
This week’s board resolution does not change that position, nor has it yet added clarity to the timing question.
ICANN chair Steve Crocker said in a press release:
The important thing here is that the Board has erased any doubt that there will be a second application window for new generic Top-Level Domains. It’s not yet possible to set a definitive date for the next application period, but that will be determined after the current window closes.