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ICANN won’t vote on new gTLDs for another year

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2021, Domain Policy

Those of you champing at the bit for an opportunity to apply for some more new gTLDs have a longer wait ahead of you than you might have hoped, following a vote of the ICANN board of directors last week.

The board has asked ICANN staff to kick off the latest — but not last — stage of the long-running runway to the next application window, but it will take around 10 months and cost millions.

On September 12, the board gave CEO Göran Marby $9 million from the 2012 round’s war chest and told him to kick off the so-called Operational Design Phase of the New Generic Top-Level Domain Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process (SubPro).

What this means is that ICANN will take the community-created policy recommendations approved by the GNSO Council in January and try to figure how they specifically could be implemented, before the board decides whether they should be implemented.

The ODP will “assess the potential risks, anticipated costs, resource requirements, timelines, and other matters related to implementation” the board resolution states.

For example, while the SubPro final report calls for an outreach campaign prior to opening the application window, the ODP scoping document (pdf) asks what materials would be needed to be produced and how much they would cost.

The scoping paper comprises dozens and dozens of questions like this, over 15 pages. I started counting them but got bored.

ICANN chair Maarten Botterman said the ODP will provide the board “with relevant materials to facilitate the Board’s determination whether the recommendations are in the best interest of the ICANN community or ICANN”.

While the resolution says the ODP should be completed “within 10 months”, that clock starts ticking when the Marby “initiates” the process, and that does not appear to have happened.

Given that, and ICANN’s habitual tardiness, I’d guess we’re looking at closer to a year before the Org has a document ready to put before the board for consideration.

With all the other stuff that needs to happen following the board’s approval, we’re probably talking about a 2024 application window. That would be 12 years after the last round and 11 years later than the next round was originally promised.

ICANN chair reins in new gTLD timeline hopes

Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2021, Domain Policy

Don’t get excited about the next round of new gTLDs launching any time soon.

That’s my takeaway from recent correspondence between ICANN’s chair and brand-owners who are apparently champing at the bit to get their teeth into some serious dot-brand action.

Maarten Botterman warned Brand Registry Group chair Cole Quinn that “significant work lies ahead” before the org can start accepting applications once more.

Quinn had urged ICANN to get a move on last month, saying in a letter that there was “significant demand” from trademark owners.

The last three-month application window ended in March 2012, governed by an Applicant Guidebook that said: “The goal is for the next application round to begin within one year of the close of the application submission period for the initial round.”

That plainly never happened, as ICANN proceeded to tie itself in bureaucratic knots and recursive cycles of review and analysis.

Any company that missed the boat or was founded in the meantime has been unable to to even get a sniff of operating its own dot-brand, or indeed any other type of gTLD.

Spelling out some of the steps that need to be accomplished before the next window opens, Botterman wrote:

the 2012 Applicant Guidebook must be updated with more than 100 outputs from the SubPro PDP WG; we will need to apply lessons learned from the previous round, many of which are documented in the 2016 Program Implementation Review, and appropriate resources for implementing and conducting subsequent rounds must be put in place. At present it appears that WG recommendations will benefit from an Operational Design Phase (ODP) to provide the Board with information on the operational implications of implementing the recommendations. As part of such an ODP, the Board may also task ICANN org to provide an assessment of some of the issues of concern that the Board raised in its comments on the Draft Final Report, as well as those topics that did not reach consensus and were thus not adopted by the GNSO Council. The outcome of such an assessment could also add to the work that would be required before launching subsequent rounds.

The Board notes your views regarding SAC114. We are aware of discussions that took place during ICANN70 and the Board is in communication with the Security and Stability Committee (SSAC) and its leadership, as per the ‘Understand’ phase of the Board Advice Process. As with all advice items received, the Board will treat SAC114 in accordance with that process.

Breaking that down for your convenience…

The reference to “more than 100 outputs from the SubPro PDP WG” refers to the now six-year old Policy Development Process for New gTLD Subsequent Procedures working group of the GNSO.

SubPro delivered its final report in January and it was adopted by the GNSO Council in February.

ICANN asked the Governmental Advisory Committee for its formal input a few weeks ago, has opened the report for a public comment period that ends June 1, and will accept or reject the report at some point in the future.

SubPro’s more significant recommendations include the creation of a new accreditation mechanism for registry back-end service providers and a gaming-preventing overhaul of the contention resolution process.

The “the 2016 Program Implementation Review” is a reference to a self-assessment of the 2012 round that the ICANN staff carried out six years ago, producing a 215-page report (pdf).

That report contains about 50 recommendations covering areas where staff thought the system of actually processing new gTLD applications could possibly be improved or streamlined in subsequent rounds.

The Operational Design Phase (ODP) Botterman refers to is a brand-new phase of ICANN bureaucracy that is currently untested. It fits between GNSO Council approval of recommendations and ICANN board consideration.

The ODP is basically a way for ICANN staff to insert itself into the process, between community policy-making and community policy-approval, to make sure the GNSO’s tenuous consensus-building exercise has not produced something too crazily complicated, ineffective or expensive to implement.

Staff denies this is a power-grab.

The ODP is currently being deployed to assess proposed changes to Whois privacy policy, and ICANN has already stated multiple times that it will also be used to vet SubPro’s work.

Botterman’s reference to “issues of concern that the Board raised in its comments on the Draft Final Report” seems to mean this September 2020 letter (pdf) to SubPro’s chairs, in which the ICANN board outlined some of its initial concerns with SubPro’s proposed policies.

One fairly important concern was whether ICANN has the power under its bylaws (which have changed since 2012) to enforce Public Interest Commitments (now called Registry Voluntary Commitments) that SubPro thinks could be used to make some sensitive gTLDs more trustworthy.

The reference to SAC144 may turn out to be a big stumbling block too.

SAC114 is the bombshell document (pdf) submitted by the Security and Stability Advisory Committee in February, in which ICANN’s top security community members openly questioned whether allowing more new gTLDs is consistent with ICANN’s commitment to keep the internet secure.

While SAC114 seems to reluctantly acknowledge that the program will likely go ahead regardless, it asks that ICANN do more to address so-called “DNS abuse” before proceeding.

Given that the various factions within the ICANN community can’t even agree on what “DNS abuse” is, how ICANN chooses to “understand” SAC114 will have a serious impact on how much further the runway to the next round gets extended.

In short, Botterman is warning brand owners not to hold their breath anticipating the next application window. I think I even detect some serious skepticism as to whether demand is really as high as Quinn claims.

And quite beyond the stuff Botterman outlines in his letter, there’s presumably going to be at least one round of review and revision on the next Applicant Guidebook, as well as the time needed for ICANN to build or upgrade the systems it needs to process the applications, to hire evaluators and resolution providers, and to make sure it conducts a sufficiently long and broad global marketing program so that potential applicants in the developing world don’t feel left out. And that’s a non-exhaustive list.

Introducing competition into the registry space is of course one of ICANN’s foundational raisons d’être.

After the org was founded in September 1998, it took less than two years before it opened up the first new gTLD application round.

It was another three years before the second round launched.

It then took eight and a half years for the 2012 window to open.

It will be well over a decade from then before anyone next gets the opportunity to apply for a new gTLD. It’s entirely feasible that we’ll see an applicant in the next round headed by somebody who wasn’t even born when the first window opened.

Rules for the next new gTLD round near the final straight

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2021, Domain Policy

The ICANN working group tasked with creating policies for the next round of new gTLDs is wrapping up its work this week, setting up the battle lines for the next phase of the program’s development.

Members of the cross-constituency Subsequent Procedures for new gTLDs group, known as SubPro, have until a minute before midnight UTC Friday night to declare whether they’re not happy with any parts of the 373-page document (pdf).

It’s expected that some groups and individuals will have beef with some of the SubPro recommendations, which will be included in the Final Report as dissenting minority statements before it is sent off to the GNSO Council later this month.

The report, the product of five years of discussions, will largely affirm that the next new gTLD round will proceed along roughly the same lines as the 2012 round, with some of ICANN staff’s historical ad-libs being codified and a few new big concepts introduced.

New additions include the idea of a pre-evaluation process for registry service providers, enabling applicants to pick from a menu of pre-approved back-ends and avoid the cost of having their technical prowess evaluated for every string they apply for.

The price of applying could be kept artificially high, however, to discourage gTLD stockpiling, and the report will also recommend banning the coexistence of single/plural variants of the same word.

One area where there was definitely no consensus was the issue of “closed generics” — a non-brand string reserved for the sole use of the registry — it’s going to be up to the GNSO Council and ICANN to muddle through this one.

While the consensus call marks the end of the working group phase of new gTLD policy development, there are still many substantial hurdles to leap before the next application round opens.

In the last round, the policy was approved by the GNSO Council in 2007, and ICANN didn’t start accepting applications until the start of 2012.

it may not take five years between policy and launch this time, if only because many of the new recommendations are merely affirmations of the status quo, but there are new mechanisms ICANN will have to implement before the next round opens, and we should probably expect more than one comment period on iterations of the next Applicant Guidebook.

The road between now and the next round is still likely measured in years.

ICANN playing ping-pong on closed generics controversy

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has refused to comment on the issue of “closed generic” gTLDs, bouncing the thorny issue back to the community.

In its response to the SubPro working group’s draft final report this week, the board declined to be drawn on whether it thinks closed generics should be allowed in future application rounds, and urged the GNSO to figure it out, writing:

the Board is not in a position to request policy outcomes… we will base our decision on whether we reasonably believe that the policy proposal is or is not in the best interests of the ICANN community or ICANN

A closed generic is a gTLD representing a non-trademark dictionary word, where the registry is the only eligible registrant. Dozens of companies tried to snap up such TLDs in 2012

ICANN changed the rules to disallow them, based largely on government advice, before punting the issue to the community, in the form of the GNSO, back in 2015.

But despite five years of thinking, the GNSO’s SubPro working group was unable to reach a consensus on whether closed generics should be allowed or not, or whether they should be allowed, but only when there’s a “public interest” purpose.

As I noted last month, it presented three possible ways closed generics could be permitted, none of which have consensus support.

So it asked the board for guidance, and the board’s response is basically “not our problem, figure it out yourselves”.

It would be churlish to criticize the board for refusing to make policy from the top-down, of course.

Much better to wait for the next time it does make policy from the top-down, and criticize it then.

Has ICANN cut off its regulatory hands?

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN may have voluntarily cut off its power to enforce bans on things like cyberbullying, pornography and copyright infringement in future new gTLDs.

Its board of directors yesterday informed the chairs of SubPro, the community group working on new gTLD policy for the next round, that its ability to enforce so-called Public Interest Commitments may be curtailed in future.

A PIC is a contractual promise to act in the public interest, enforceable by ICANN through a PIC Dispute Resolution Process. All 2012 new gTLDs have them, but some have additional PICs due to the gTLD’s sensitive nature.

They were created because ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee didn’t like the look of some applications for gTLD strings it considered potentially problematic.

.sucks is a good example — registry Vox Populi has specific commitments to ban cyberbullying, porn, and parking in its registry agreement.

Should ICANN receive complaints about bullying in .sucks, it would be able to invoke the PICDRP and, at least in theory, terminate Vox Pop’s registry contract.

But these are all restrictions on content, and ICANN is singularly focused on not being a content regulator.

It’s so focused on staying away from content that four years ago, during the IANA transition, it amended its bylaws to specifically handcuff itself. The bylaws now state, front and center:

ICANN shall not regulate (i.e., impose rules and restrictions on) services that use the Internet’s unique identifiers or the content that such services carry or provide… For the avoidance of doubt, ICANN does not hold any governmentally authorized regulatory authority.

There’s a specific carve-out grandfathering contracts inked before October 1, 2016, so PICs agreed to by 2012-round applicants are still enforceable.

But it’s doubtful that any PICs not related to the security and stability of the DNS will be enforceable in future, the board told SubPro.

The issue is being raised now because SubPro is proposing a continuation of the PICs program, baking it into policy in what it calls Registry Voluntary Commitments.

Its draft final report acknowledges that ICANN’s not in the content regulation business, but most of the group were in favor of maintaining the status quo.

But the board evidently is more concerned. It told SubPro’s chairs:

The language of the Bylaws, however, could preclude ICANN from entering into future registry agreements (that materially differ in form from the 2012 round version currently in force) that include PICs that reach outside of ICANN’s technical mission as stated in the Bylaws. The language of the Bylaws specifically limits ICANN’s negotiating and contracting power to PICs that are “in service of its Mission.” The Board is concerned, therefore, that the current Bylaws language would create issues for ICANN to enter and enforce any content-related issue regarding PICs or Registry Voluntary Commitments (RVCs)

There’s a possibility that it could now be more difficult for future applicants to get their applications past GAC concerns or other complaints, particularly if their chosen string addresses a “highly sensitive or regulated industry”.

There was a “chuck it in the PICs” attitude to many controversies in the 2012 round, but with that option perhaps not available in future, it may lead to an increase in withdrawn applications.

Could .sucks get approved in future, without a cast-iron, enforceable commitment to ban bullying?

This ICANN comment period is a Kafkaesque nightmare

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2020, Domain Policy

With the deadline for commenting on draft new gTLD program rules rapidly approaching, you may be tempted to visit the ICANN web site to peruse the comments that have already been submitted by others. Good bloody luck.

The way ICANN has chosen to present the comments is so bafflingly opaque, confusing and confounding that I can’t help but conclude it must have been deliberately designed to be as soul-crushing as possible.

Regular comment periods are pretty straightforward: you email your comments as prose to ICANN, ICANN publishes the email and any attachments for others to read. Everyone knows where everyone stands. Job done.

But recently there’s been a worrying trend towards a questionnaire and spreadsheet model based around Google Docs, and that’s the model being used for comments on the final draft report of the new gTLD program working group, known as SubPro.

You can check out the spreadsheet here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the spreadsheet is 215 columns wide, with each respondent given one row for their responses.

You’ll also notice that the spreadsheet doesn’t seem to understand line breaks. Where the respondent has provided some textual commentary, it’s spread across multiple columns in some cases and not in others.

And then there’s the column headings.

While stumbling randomly through the spreadsheet, I discovered an interesting nugget of information — it seems the new gTLD registry MMX wants the next application round delayed until all of the 2012 round have been launched, which I found a bit surprising.

This nugget can be found under the column heading “Enter your response here”, a heading that is helpfully shared by 90 (ninety) other columns on the same damn page.

The heading “Do you want to save your progress and quit for now? You will be able to return to the form to complete it at a later time” appears 10 times in the document.

No information in adjacent columns sheds any light on what triggered MMX to make its comment.

In order to figure out the question for pretty much any response, the only option appears to be to cross-reference the spreadsheet with the original form questionnaire, which can be found as a PDF here.

But the questionnaire has 234 questions and there’s no straightforward correlation between the question number and the columns on the spreadsheet, which are addressed as AA through IG.

So when you see that European industry group CENTR went to the trouble to “Support Output(s) as written” in column DI, under the heading “If you choose one of the following responses, there is no need to submit comments”, it’s virtually impossible to figure out what it actually supports.

If you are able to figure out which question it was answering, that probably won’t help you much either.

The form merely contains brief summaries of changes the working group has made. To see the “Output(s) as written” you’d have to cross-reference with the 363-page draft final report (pdf).

A lot of you are probably thinking that I should just export the spreadsheet into Excel or OpenOffice and clean it up a bit. But, no, you can’t. ICANN has disabled exporting, downloading, and even copy-pasting.

It’s enough to make one feel like going out and licking the floor on public transport.

Way to go on the transparency, ICANN!

I have to believe that the ICANN staffer responsible for compiling all these comments into the official ICANN summary has some tools at his or her disposal to render this mess decipherable, because otherwise they’ve got a huge, hair-ripping job on their hands.

Of course, since there doesn’t appear to be a way for the rest of us to verify the summary report’s accuracy, they can probably just write whatever they want.

Fight over closed generics ends in stalemate

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Policy

Closed generic gTLDs could be a thing in the next application round. Or they might not. Even after four years, ICANN’s greatest policy-making minds can’t agree.

The New gTLDs Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro) delivered its draft final policy recommendations last week, and the most glaring lack of consensus concerned closed generics.

A closed generic is a dictionary-word gTLD, not matching the applicant’s trademark, that is nevertheless treated as if it were a dot-brand, where the registry is the only eligible registrant.

It’s basically a way for companies to vacuum up the strings most relevant to their businesses, keeping them out of the hands of competitors.

There were 186 attempts to apply for closed generics in 2012 — L’Oreal applied for TLDs such as .beauty, .makeup and .hair with the clear expectation of registry-exclusive registrations, for example

But ICANN moved the goalposts in 2013 following advice from its Governmental Advisory Committee, asking these applicants to either withdraw or amend their applications. It finally banned the concept in 2015, and punted the policy question to SubPro.

But SubPro, made up of a diverse spectrum of volunteers, was unable to reach a consensus on whether closed generics should be allowed and under what circumstances. It’s the one glaring hole in its final report.

The working group does appear to have taken on board the same GAC advice as ICANN did seven years ago, however, which presents its own set of problems. Back in 2013, GAC advice was often written in such a way as to be deliberately vague and borderline unimplementable.

In this case, the GAC had told ICANN to ban closed generics unless there was a “a public interest goal”. What to make of this advice appears to have been a stumbling block for SubPro. What the hell is the “public interest” anyway?

Working group members were split into three camps: those that believed closed generics should be banned outright, those who believed that should be permitted without limitation, and those who said they should be allowed but tightly regulated.

Three different groups from SubPro submitted proposals for how closed generics should be handled.

The most straightforward, penned by consultant Kurt Pritz and industry lawyers Marc Trachtenberg and Mike Rodenbaugh, and entitled The Case for Delegating Closed Generics (pdf) basically says that closed generics encourage innovation and should be permitted without limitation.

This trio argues that there are no adequate, workable definitions of either “generic” or “public interest”, and that closed generics are likely to cause more good than harm.

They raise the example of .book, which was applied for by Amazon as a closed generic and eventually contracted as an open gTLD.

Many of us were thrilled when Amazon applied for .book. Participation by Amazon validated the whole program and the world’s largest book seller was well disposed to use the platform for innovation. Yet, we decided to get in the way of that. What harm was avoided by cancelling the incalculable benefit staring us right in the face?

Coincidentally, Amazon signed its .book registry agreement exactly five years ago today and has done precisely nothing with it. There’s not even a launch plan. It looks, to all intents and purposes, warehoused.

It goes without saying that if closed generics are allowed by ICANN, it will substantially increase the number of potential new gTLD applicants in the next round and therefore the amount of work available for consultants and lawyers.

The second proposal (pdf), submitted by recently independent policy consultant Jeff Neuman of JJN Solutions, envisages allowing closed generics, but with only with heavy end-user (not registrant) involvement.

This idea would see a few layers of oversight, including a “governance council” of end users for each closed generic, and seems to be designed to avoid big companies harming competition in their industries.

The third proposal (pdf), written by Alan Greenberg, Kathy Kleiman, George Sadowsky and Greg Shatan, would create a new class of gTLDs called “Public Interest Closed Generic gTLDs” or “PICGS”.

This is basically the non-profit option.

PICGS would be very similar to the “Community” gTLDs present since the 2012 round. In this case, the applicant would have to be a non-profit entity and it would have to have a “critical mass” of support from others in the area of interest represented by the string.

The model would basically rule out the likes of L’Oreal’s .makeup and Amazon’s .book, but would allow, off the top of my head, something like .relief being run by the likes of the Red Cross, Oxfam and UNICEF.

Because the working group could not coalesce behind any of these proposals, it’s perhaps an area where public comment could have the most impact.

The SubPro draft final report is out for public comment now until September 30.

After it’s given final approval, it will go to the GNSO Council and then the ICANN board before finally becoming policy.

New gTLD prices could be kept artificially high

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN might keep its new gTLD application fees artificially expensive in future in order to deter TLD warehousing.

Under a policy recommendation out from the New gTLDs Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro) last week, ICANN should impose an “application fee floor” to help keep top-level domains out of the hands of gamers and miscreants.

In the 2012 application round, the $185,000 fee was calculated on a “cost-recovery basis”. That is, ICANN was not supposed to use it as a revenue source for its other activities.

But SubPro wants to amend that policy so that, should the costs of the program ever fall before a yet-to-be-determined minimum threshold, the application fee would be set at this fee floor and ICANN would take in more money from the program than it costs to run.

SubPro wrote:

The Working Group believes that it is appropriate to establish an application fee floor, or minimum application fee that would apply regardless of projected program costs that would need to be recovered through application fees collected. The purpose of an application fee floor is to deter speculation and potential warehousing of TLDs, as well as mitigate against the use of TLDs for abusive or malicious purposes. The Working Group’s support for a fee floor is also based on the recognition that the operation of a domain name registry is akin to the operation of a critical part of the Internet infrastructure.

The working group did not put a figure on what the fee floor should be, instead entrusting ICANN to do the math (and publicly show its working).

But SubPro agreed that ICANN should not use what essentially amounts to a profit to fund its other activities.

The excess cash could only be used for things related to the new gTLD program, such as publicizing the availability of new gTLDs or subsidizing poorer applicants via the Applicant Support Program.

ICANN already accounts for its costs related to the program separately. It took in $361 million in application fees back in 2012 and as of the end of 2019 it had $62 million remaining.

Does that mean fees could come down by as much as 17% in the next application round based on ICANN’s experience? Not necessarily — about a third of the $185,000 fee was allocated to a “risk fund” used to cover unexpected developments such as lawsuits, and that risk profile hasn’t necessarily changed in the last eight years.

Fees could be lowered for other reasons also.

As I blogged earlier today, a new registry service provider pre-evaluation program could reduce the application fee for the vast majority of applicants by eliminating redundancies and shifting the cost of technical evaluations from applicants to RSPs.

The financial evaluation is also being radically simplified, which could reduce the application fee.

In 2012, evaluations were carried out based on the applicant’s modelling of how many domains it expected to sell and how that would cover its expenses, but many applicants were way off base with their projections, rendering the process flawed.

SubPro proposes to do away with this in favor generally of applicants self-certifying that their financial situation meets the challenge. Public companies on the world’s largest 25 exchanges won’t have to prove they’re financially capable of running a gTLD at all.

The working group is also proposing changes to the Applicant Support Program, under which ICANN subsidizes the application fee for needy applicants. It wasn’t used much in 2012, a failure largely attributed to ICANN’s lack of outreach in the Global South.

Under SubPro’s recommendations, ICANN would be required to do a much better job of advertising the program’s existence, and subsidies would extend beyond the application fee to additional services such as consultants and lawyers.

Language from the existing policy restricting the program to a few dozen of the world’s poorest countries (which was, in practice, ignored in 2012 anyway), would also be removed and ICANN would be encouraged to conduct outreach in a broader range of countries.

In terms of costs, dot-brand applicants also get some love from SubPro. These applicants will be spared the requirement to have a so-called Continuing Operations Instrument.

The COI is basically a financial safeguard for registrants, usually a letter of credit from a big bank. In the event that a registry goes out of business, the COI is tapped to pay for three years of operations, enabling registrants to peacefully transition to a different TLD.

Given that the only registrant of a dot-brand gTLD is the registry itself, this protection clearly isn’t needed, so SubPro is making dot-brand applicants exempt.

Overall, it seems very likely that the cost of applying for a new gTLD is going to come down in the next round. Whether it comes down to something in excess of the fee floor or below it is going to depend entirely on ICANN’s models and estimates over the coming couple of years.

New back-end approval program could reduce the cost of a new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN will consider a new pre-approval program for registry back-end service providers in order to streamline the new gTLD application process and potentially reduce application fees.

The proposed “RSP pre-evaluation process” was one of the biggest changes to the new gTLD program agreed to by ICANN’s New gTLDs Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro), which published its final report for comment last week.

The recommendation addresses what was widely seen as a huge process inefficiency in the evaluation phase of the 2012 application round, which required each application to be subjected to a unique technical analysis by a team of outside experts.

This was perceived as costly, redundant and wasteful, given that the large majority of applications proposed to use the same handful of back-end RSPs.

Donuts, which applied for over 300 strings with virtual cookie-cutter business models and all using the same back-end, had to pay for over 300 technical evaluations, for example.

Similarly, clients of dot-brand service providers such as Neustar and Verisign each had to pay for the same evaluation as hundreds of fellow clients, despite the tech portions of the applications being largely copy-pasted from the same source.

For subsequent rounds, that will all change. ICANN will instead do the tech evals on a per-RSP, rather than per-application, basis.

All RSPs that intend to fight for business in the next round will undergo an evaluation before ICANN starts accepting applications. In a bit of a marketing coup for the RSPs, ICANN will then publish the names of all the companies that have passed evaluation.

The RSPs would have to cover the cost of the evaluation, and would have to be reevaluated prior to each application window. ICANN would be banned from making a profit on the procedure.

SubPro agreed that applicants selecting a pre-approved RSP should not have to pay the portion of the overall application fee — $185,000 in 2012 — that covers the tech eval.

RSPs may decide to recoup the costs from their clients via other means, of course, but even then the fee would be spread out among many clients.

The proposed policy, which is still subject to SubPro, GNSO Council and ICANN board approval, is a big win for the back-ends.

Not only do they get to offer prospective clients a financial incentive to choose them over an in-house solution, but ICANN will also essentially promote their services as part of the program’s communications outreach. Nice.

Single/plural gTLD combos to be BANNED

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Policy

Singular and plural versions of the same string will be banned at the top level under proposed rule changes for the next round of new gTLDs.

The final set of recommendations of ICANN’s New gTLDs Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro), which were published after four years of development last week, state:

the Working Group recommends prohibiting plurals and singulars of the same word within the same language/script in order to reduce the risk of consumer confusion. For example, the TLDs .EXAMPLE and .EXAMPLES may not both be delegated because they are considered confusingly similar.

The 2012 round had no hard and fast rule about plurals. There were String Similarity Review and String Confusion Objection procedures, but they produced unpredictable results.

At least 15 single/plural string pairs currently exist in the root, including .fan(s), .accountant(s), .loan(s), .review(s) and .deal(s). Sometimes they’re both part of the same registry’s portfolio, other times they’re owned by competitors.

But others, including .pet and .pets and .sport and .sports, were ruled by independent panels too “confusingly similar” to be allowed to coexist.

The proposed new rule would remove much of the subjectivity from these kinds of decisions, replacing the current system of objections with a flat no-coexistence rule.

If a gTLD that was the plural of an existing gTLD were applied for, the application would be rejected. If the singular and plural variants of the same word were applied for in the same round, the applications would likely end up at auction.

But there would be some wriggle room, with the ban only applying if both applied-for strings truly are singular/plural variations of each other in the same language. The working group wrote:

.SPRING and .SPRINGS could both be allowed if one refers to the season and the other refers to elastic objects, because they are not singular and plural versions of the same word. However, if both are intended to be used in connection with the elastic object, then they will be placed into the same contention set. Similarly, if an existing TLD .SPRING is used in connection with the season and a new application for .SPRINGS is intended to be used in connection with elastic objects, the new application will not be automatically disqualified.

In such situations, both registries would have to agree to binding Public Interest Commitments to only use the gTLDs for their stated, non-conflicting purposes. Registrants would also have to commit to only use .spring to represent the season and .springs for the elastic objects, also.

The ban will substantially eliminate the problem I’ve previously referred to as “tailgating”, where a registry applies for the plural variant of a competitor’s successful, well-marketed gTLD, prices domains slightly lower, then sits back to effortlessly reap the benefits of their rival’s popularity.

One could easily imagine applicants for strings such as .clubs or .sites in the next round, with applicants content to lazily ride the coat-tails of the million-selling singular namespaces.

The rule change will also remove the need for existing registries to defensively apply for the single/plural variants of their current portfolio, and for existing registrants to be compelled to defensively registry domains in yet another TLD.

On the flipside, it means that some potentially useful strings would be forever banned from the DNS.

While it might make sense for a film producer to register a .movie domain to market a single movie, it would not make sense for a review site or movies-related blog, where a .movies domain would be more appropriate. But now that’s never going to be possible.

SubPro’s work is still subject to final approval by SubPro, the GNSO Council and ICANN board of directors before it becomes policy.

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