A closer look at the new gTLD evaluation program

Stphane Van Gelder, ICANN, new gtlds

A few days before July 12 of this year, ICANN began evaluating those applications out of the original 1930 received that haven't since been withdrawn, i.e. all 1924 of them.

At this year's ICANN StudienKreis which I attended in Oslo last week, we learned that the evaluation work is being handled through several panels, each with a specific focus and based on partnerships with specialised firms which have been chosen to fit into the following categories:

  • Financial and technical evaluations will be handled by Ernst & Young, KPMG or JAS Advisors.

  • Geographic names evaluations by The Economist Intelligence Unit or Interconnect Communications;

  • String similarity evaluations by Interconnect Communications or Interisle;

  • DNS stability evaluations by Interisle;

  • And community priority evaluations by The Economist Intelligence Unit or Interconnect Communications.

After ICANN gave up on the proposed Digital Archery method of putting applications in batches of about 500, it turned to its evaluation partners for help. Simply put, they were asked to do more in less time as ICANN now embarked on an ambitious plan to handle all applications in one single, continuous batch.

The first step was to allocate applications to the different panels and begin the evaluation work. At the time of writing, the geographic name, string similarity and DNS stability panels were all fully allocated, i.e. they were processing the complete pool of applications. The financial capability and technical & operational capability panels had each received 342 of the 1924 applications to be evaluated.

To ensure that evaluators were able to meet the high standards set by ICANN for this crucial part of the program, they were given training and enrolled in a pilot program to test their capabilities. Results showed a reassuringly high level of consistency in how the partners evaluated applications.

Clarifying questions

A key part of the evaluation process is ICANN's latest acronym: CQs. These are the Clarifying Questions that evaluators will send applicants as they go into the detail of their proposed TLDs and strive to understand them to the fullest extent possible.

It's expected that a large proportion (if not all) of applications will get CGs. Early observations show that over 90% of applications require at least 1 financial CQ (often linked to the letters of credit that ICANN required as part of an applicant's financial validation) and over 40% of applications require at least 1 technical CQ.

To ensure the highest levels of quality possible in how CQs are handled, ICANN is doing a pilot program. The program aims to ensure that questions drafted by evaluators are as clear as possible so that applicants understand them well. ICANN aims to select 50 applications for this pilot, and selected applicants will be able to opt out should they not wish to take part. The program is expected to begin this week (week of August 27) and will be operated through ICANN's new gTLD Customer Service Center (CSC). The CSC will contact selected applicants and give them two weeks to respond to their CQs. Part of the pilot aims to measure whether two weeks is a feasible turnaround time for applicants to answer their CQs.

Applicants selected to take part in the pilot will gain no advantage over non-selected applicants and will have to provide answers to their CQs again through the TLD Application System (TAS) once the pilot is completed.

I object!

A final aspect of the evaluation program is the objection and dispute resolution mechanisms that ICANN is putting in place as part of this phase of the new gTLD rollout.

Without going into the specifics of these mechanisms, it's worth pointing out that ICANN has now signed pre-contracts with three dispute resolution providers, the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) in Geneva and the ICDR (the International Centre for Dispute Resolution) in New York.

French professor Alain Pellet has been chosen as the new gTLD program's Independent Objector and Power Auctions has been selected as the auction operator should multiple applicants requesting the same TLD not be distinguishable by any other way.


Written by Stéphane Van Gelder, Registry Relations and Strategy Director, NetNames

28 August 2012