Governments to process new gTLDs by April 2013

Stéphane Van Gelder, Registry Relations and Strategy Director for NetNames reports on the latest developments in Internet governance

Governments are set to play a key role in ICANN's new gTLD program as they are able to object to specific applications.

Individual countries may, for instance, feel that a proposed new gTLD would infringe their national laws and may wish to raise this as a red flag to both the applicant and ICANN. The new gTLD applicant guidebook calls this an "early warning" and advises recipients of such a warning to seek to address it before the string they have requested comes up for evaluation by the ICANN Board.

It's not only individual governments that can object. The Government Advisory Committee (GAC) groups governments together in a single ICANN structure. The GAC can also flag problems with applications. This is done through "GAC advice" given to the ICANN Board. If an application is the object of GAC advice, it has very little chance of being approved unless the applicant is able to make changes required to satisfy the GAC.

Both early warnings and GAC advice are important steps in the new gTLD program for which ICANN needs a clear timetable to work with. Obviously, the work of evaluating applications cannot be completed by ICANN until it knows when it should expect input from the GAC, as that input may have significant impact on applications.

Early warnings to be sent in on 20 November 2012

During the 45th ICANN meeting, in Toronto last week, the GAC pledged to provide the ICANN Board with any early warnings on 20 November 2012. It also confirmed that it is working to send in any GAC advice straight after the next ICANN meeting in Beijing, China, in April next year.

To identify applications that may give cause for concern, governments are considering several key areas:

  • Consumer protection;

  • Strings linked to regulated markets like the financial or health industries;
    Competition issues;

  • Strings with possible broad meanings being requested for an applicant's exclusive use;

  • Religious terms for which the applicant has demonstrated little or no support from the relevant religious communities;

  • An applicant that has minimised the need for defensive registrations;

  • Whether geographic names are well protected;

  • Whether the strings safeguards intellectual property rights, particularly where the string is to be used for the distribution of music or video or other types of digital content.

Governments will also check the relationship between an application and all applicable legislation in their respective countries. This may give rise to early warnings (say in the case of a country where homosexuality is unlawful) that do not necessarily lead to full-on GAC advice (if governments as a whole are adverse to taking such extreme positions). It will therefore be up to the applicant to determine whether early warnings can be ignored or not. But whatever an applicant's specific circumstances, it would be unwise to ignore GAC advice.

In order to make it easier for applicants to heed governmental advice, the GAC has asked those that are the recipient of it to be allowed to modify their applications accordingly.

A parallel and logical request is that any new pledges made by an applicant who has updated his proposed TLD to match GAC requirements become part of his contract, to be strictly enforced by ICANN's compliance department once the TLD is approved and live on the Internet.


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

25 October 2012