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Second new gTLD round in “small number of years”

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2012, Domain Policy

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.

ICANN promises a second new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, February 10, 2012, Domain Policy

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.

But with ICANN increasingly worried about defensive dot-brands – which I think are one of the biggest PR risks to the program – some kind of statement was needed.

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.

ICANN adds confusion over second new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors met on Thursday to discuss the imminent launch of the new generic top-level domains program.

No decisions were made, which means the organization is still set to start accepting applications on January 12, as ICANN’s top officials have stated several times this week.

I hear that the TLD Application System is due to go live one minute after midnight (UTC) on Thursday, in fact, which means too-eager Californian applicants may be able to sign up as early as Wednesday afternoon.

Six briefing documents used at the meeting have been published, one of which deals with the all-important issue of the timing of the second (or “next” as ICANN prefers) application round.

It’s become increasingly apparent recently that lots of big brands think they’re being forced to defensively apply for their own trademarks as gTLDs in the first round.

Some registries, lawyers and new gTLD consultants are probably just as much to blame for this fearmongering as opponents of the program such as the Association of National Advertisers.

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse has recently championed the cause of a firm date for a second-round application window, to make a “wait and see” strategy more realistic.

I’ve previously said that a first round stuffed with useless defensive dot-brands would make a mockery of the whole new gTLD program.

ICANN evidently agrees. The board briefing materials (pdf) state:

A timely second round will relieve pressure on the first round, reducing demand and:

o Reducing delegation rates, thereby relieving stability concern perceptions,

o Addressing concerns of some trademark owners that are critical of the process, relieving the perception of need for “defensive registration” at the top-level,

o Decreasing the number of applications relieves some pressure on specific operational issues such as the number of batches, instances of string contention, and the amount of time it will take to process all the applications. Fewer applications will increase the ability to process applications in an efficient manner.

The Applicant Guidebook is currently vague and even a little confusing on the timing of the second round.

Unfortunately, the new briefing materials, which attempt to give some clarity into ICANN’s thinking, appear to contain errors and potentially just confuse matters further.

The documents state “ICANN should publicly announce its intention to launch a subsequent round as soon as practicable after the one opening on 12 January 2012″.

So far so good.

However, ICANN has promised its Governmental Advisory Committee that it will complete two reviews before opening a second round: one into the effect of the first round on root zone stability, the other into the effectiveness of the new trademark protection mechanisms.

ICANN now states that the trademark study would start “one year after 75 gTLDs are in the root” and gives a clearly impossible date of February 2013 for this happening.

I’m guessing this is one of those silly typos we all sometimes make during the first week of a new year.

Given that the first new gTLDs will not be delegated until 2013, ICANN almost certainly meant to say that it expects to start the trademark review a year later in February 2014.

ICANN also sensibly notes that it “cannot commit to when we get consensus on the conclusions of a Trademark study”, which doesn’t really add clarity to the timeline either.

The document also states:

The other critical path is completion of the round 1 applications – this is uncertain because (a) we don’t know the number of batches that are required and (b) if we could start the second round while we finish up the objections and stuff from the first round. However, if there are four batches, initial evaluations for them would finish in March 2013, and nearly all applications should clear in the second quarter of 2014.

I assume, but the document does not state, that this is a reference to the root zone stability study, which under a strict reading of the Guidebook is supposed to happen after the first round has ended.

Unfortunately, the dates appear to be wrong again.

According to the Applicant Guidebook, the Initial Evaluation phase takes five months. Four batches would therefore take 20 months, which would give a March 2014 date for the end of initial evaluations and a second-quarter 2015 date for the final delegations.

Again, this is probably just one of those first-week-of-the-year brainfarts. I assume (hope) the ICANN board noticed the discrepancy too and based its discussions on the actual timeline.

There’s also the matter of ICANN’s review of the program’s effects on competition and consumer choice, which is mandated by its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce.

Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear even to ICANN whether this is a prerequisite for a second round, according to the briefing documents.

Commerce has a bit of a predicament here. On the one hand, it wants to ensure new gTLDs are good for internet users. On the other, it’s under a massive amount of pressure from the trademark lobby, which would benefit from clarity into the timeline for future application rounds.

Either way, the US government’s interpretation of the Affirmation is going to be a key factor in determining the second-round launch date.

In short, given what is known and expected, 2015 seems to be the earliest possible date for the second round, but a hell of a lot rides on how many applications are received.

In a blog post today, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said: “The issues should be settled before the application window closes on 12 April but their resolution is not essential before the window opens on 12 January.”

I disagree. If ICANN is serious about reducing defensive applications, it needs to provide an unambiguous public statement about the second round before it starts accepting checks from brand owners.

Naming a date may not be possible, but it needs to say something.

CADNA asks for new gTLDs second round

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2011, Domain Policy

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, having spent quite a lot of time and effort opposing ICANN’s new top-level domains program, wants ICANN to name the date for a second round.

In a letter to president Rod Beckstrom today, which was inspired by discussions at the recent What’s At Stake conference, CADNA president Josh Bourne writes:

We ask that the ICANN Board request an Issues Report to formally initiate a policy development process to determine when the next round of new gTLD applications will occur, thereby affirming its commitment to opening a second round in a timely manner.

As I’ve noted previously, ICANN has not named the date for the second round so far because it’s promised the Governmental Advisory Committee that it will review the first round first.

But businesses from outside the domain name industry are feeling like they’re being pressured into making a decision whether to apply for a gTLD they don’t necessarily want, Bourne says.

By not disclosing when it will open future rounds of new gTLD applications, ICANN is creating a condition of scarcity that will inevitably result in a massive land rush, where entities will scramble to apply for new gTLDs for the sole purpose of hypothetically “future-proofing” their identities in the new domain name space, without any immediate intentions to use their new gTLDs for innovative means.

Disclosing when it will open a second application round will not only alleviate the anxiety that businesses are feeling, it will give ICANN the chance to quell the animosity that has developed toward it among the business community.

The whole letter is worth a read. No matter what you think of CADNA, it’s difficult to argue with Bourne’s points (though please do so in the comments if you disagree).

Scare sales tactics are already a key source of mainstream hatred for the domain name industry at the second level. Now would be a good time to prevent the same thing happening at the top level too.

It will look very bad for ICANN in a few years’ time if the root is cluttered with useless, unused gTLDs created just because companies felt pressured into defensive applications.

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.