ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé has set 23 April 2013 as the date the first of the new gTLDs will be able to move to the delegation phase. "We are now targeting to be able to recommend for delegation the first new gTLD as early as the 23rd of April," Chehadé said in a video interview recorded on February 13.
So new gTLDs will hit the Web in a couple of months? Not quite. Delegating a TLD means inserting it in the Internet root. In theory, when a TLD is delegated, it can be activated at any time. Domain names registered in that TLD should work and deliver website and email services as required. But in practice, a lot needs to happen between ICANN giving a TLD the go-ahead and that TLD going live on the Internet, including the not inconsequential matter of the TLD operator itself being ready to launch.
But what ICANN's announcement does mean is that the program is now being professionally project managed. In the interview, Chehadé confirmed that this is the first time ICANN has mentioned a specific date for its new gTLD program. "That's because of tremendous work that has taken place to align our operations, our legal and business frameworks, and all the input we need from the community so that we can start moving the whole program to start becoming a reality that serves the consumers".
To be in a position to set a date, Chehadé must have had confirmation that a large swath of ongoing work streams are either already complete, or close to getting there. To be approved for delegation, a new gTLD has to have had no objections raised against it, not be the target of any GAC (governmental) Advice, and not be in a string contention set (i.e. others have applied for the same string).
Obviously, some applications will not be objected to and not be in contention with others, so those two criteria do not feature as roadblocks for ICANN to be ready to recommend delegation of at least one TLD on 23 April.
However ICANN has no control over the delivery of the GAC's official advice on which applied-for TLDs it finds objectionable. There has been speculation that the GAC would not be ready to provide this advice any time soon, thereby holding the whole program up. But ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee silenced the doubters this morning with a short, sharp and to-the-point statement: "During the week of 18 February 2013, the GAC will post its list of applications for consideration by the GAC as a whole in Beijing, in the context of developing GAC advice as outlined in the Applicant Guidebook (Module 3 section 3.1)".
So clearly, the pieces are falling together. Sensibly, ICANN's CEO was careful not to over commit to 23 of April, saying: "there are some things that we can't control that may cause this date to slip, but even in that case, we are looking for a slippage of days or weeks. Not months anymore".
So which new gTLD will lead the Internet revolution? That remains unknown at this point, but applications are being processed according to the priority number they drew in December (see here) so the first one through the gate should be an IDN, or non-Latin character, string.
Written by Stéphane Van Gelder
Chairman and Managing Director of Stéphane Van Gelder Consulting Ltd.