ICANN strives to improve the new gTLD program

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

ICANN has shaken up its new gTLD program team and is also revisiting its approach to communicating with the outside world.

Since program director Kurt Pritz left ICANN, new faces have stepped into the limelight. There's a new program General Manager, Christine Willet, and a new gTLD communications manager, Michele Jourdan. There's also a new commitment from ICANN to improve the way it provides information.

At a recent presentation, ICANN admitted that its previous webinars had been lacking in content quality, organized without sufficient prior notice and held at US-friendly times only.

ICANN's new gTLD team pledged to give at least two weeks notice of upcoming informational webinars from now on. Webinars will also focus on clear and consistent content, be held during the week and rotated through thee different time zones.

All systems go

Whilst admitting past failures, ICANN also gave encouraging news on the program's status.

The crucial Initial Evaluation (IE) phase, where independent evaluation panels are sifting through all 1,917 remaining first-round applications (13 applications have now been officially withdrawn, whilst applicants have sent in 424 requests to change parts of their applications), are all on target to meet the scheduled 23 March 2013 release date for IE results.

During this phase, applicants are screened whilst applications are tested for similarity to other TLDs. The risk applications might pose to the Internet's Domain Name System is also evaluated, whilst an applicant's financial, technical, operational and service capabilities are looked into. Evaluators also make sure prospective TLDs do not infringe on ICANN' rules for geographic names.

As part of this work, evaluators are able to send Clarifying Questions (CQs) if the application itself is not sufficiently self-explanatory. These have already begun going out, with CQs linked to geographic name issues starting to go out on 26 November of last year.

CQs to do with registry operations, financials and technical or general operational aspects of an application started going out on 15 January 2013. ICANN has revealed that upwards of 80 percent of all applications are likely to receive at least one Clarifying Question. This should by no means be considered a measure of the poor quality of applications. Evaluating prospective gTLDs is just a complex affair that requires evaluators to dig deep into the detail of applications.

First evaluation results in March

Now that the 17 December 2012 draw has taken place and applications assigned a prioritization number, all subsequent work is being handled accordingly. CQs will be sent out by Priority Numbers assigned during the draw, with 100 CQs scheduled for release each week. Applicants will be given four weeks to respond, the initial plan was two weeks.

ICANN expects to be sending out CQs until June, with applicants responding until July. Because of the sheer number of applications, this will not delay the program itself. Evaluators will just work on those applications for which answers have already been received, whilst others remain in the queue.

This means Initial Evaluation results should begin to be published at a rate of 30 a week on 23 March, with ICANN ramping up to 100 results per week by June. All results should be out by the end of August.

Rights Protections

Other tasks needed to complete this phase of the new gTLD program are also reported on schedule.

On the much-discussed Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), ICANN expects to launch the validation system in February and the actual database itself in March.

The Uniform Rapid Suspension, a rights protection mechanism linked to the TMCH, is also expected to make significant advances with a provider for this service being selected and announced in February.

ICANN has had a hard time finding an entity willing to provide this service at the target cost of $300 to $500 so securing one would be comforting news as prior rights infringements remain a very sensitive issue and one by which many will judge the new gTLD program.

Watch this space for continued updates on ICANN's new gTLD program. Past ICANN webinars can also be downloaded from here.


Written on 16 January 2013 by Stéphane Van Gelder, Registry Relations and Strategy Director for NetNames