This is why ICANN is worried about new gTLDs right now
ICANN’s board of directors yesterday laid out a whole bucket list of concerns it has about the next round of new gTLDs, some of which it thinks might take over a year to resolve.
The board told the GNSO Council on a conference call that it has 38 areas of concern that will need to be addressed before it can fully approve the policy recommendations sent to it two years ago.
ICANN has identified 298 recommendations emerging from the GNSO’s Final Report (pdf) into the future of the new gTLD program.
The board intends to fully approve 94 of those recommendations March 16, at its meeting in Cancun, which begins next week. A further 168 are believed to be covered by already-approved policy and will simply be “acknowledged”.
That leaves 38 that will need further discussion between the board, Council and Governmental Advisory Committee, covering areas such as legal and financial exposure, potential bylaws violations, and worries about gaming.
Here’s my non-exhaustive hot take on the issues that look most interesting to me.
Most surprising to me are indications that the current board appears to favor a gradual transition to making new gTLDs available to applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.
The GNSO’s Final Report was firm that the program continue to operate in discrete, regular rounds, with finite application windows. It rejected the idea of FCFS for a host of persuasive reasons.
But director Becky Burr told the Council yesterday: “The Board really would like to consider whether it makes sense to move to a system of continuous applications at some point.”
“In other words, moving out of rounds into a first-come first-served mode at some point, because that would have a lot of potential advantages with respect to string similarity issues and contention sets and the like,” she said.
FCFS could remove these costly aspects of the program — no contention sets means no auctions, for a start — but do we really want a process where the fastest trigger-finger is the sole decider of who gets a gTLD?
This would make obtaining a gTLD more akin to drop-catching. Anyone remember digital archery?
The board suggests the GNSO reconvene its Policy Development Process working group to address this issue, with a target date of June this year for resolution.
The board is also worried that the Final Report suggests a blanket ban on emojis “at any level” in gTLDs, for security and stability reasons — since there’s no standard for how emojis are rendered in software, the chance of confusion is pretty high.
This appears to be an easily fixable problem of wording. The board points out that it only has power to set policy for gTLDs and second-level domains, a ban “at any level” — which would include [emoji].example.example domains — may be ultra vires.
Simply clarifying that the ban only applies at any “registerable” level may be enough to put this concern to bed, but the board reckons it might take until October.
The Content Police
As previously reported, the board has concerns about proposals for “Registry Voluntary Commitments”, which would be contractually enforceable promises to only allow, for example, certain types of content or registrant.
This could go against ICANN’s bylaws commitments to stay out of policing internet content, a very sensitive issue.
ICANN has previously floated the idea of amending the bylaws to enable RVCs, but now the board wants to talk further with the GNSO before taking any action. It thinks it could take until April 2024, 13 months from now, to sort this out.
Watching the Pennies
The board has a number of concerns that some GNSO recommendations may risk emptying ICANN’s coffers.
It wants to revisit the idea that the Applicant Support program be expanded to include lawyers fees and application-writing services, for example. In 2012, it only subsidized ICANN’s own application fees.
The board is also worried that releasing dot-brand owners from the required to post a financial bond to cover the Emergency Back-End Registry Operator’s costs should the TLD fail may end up costing ICANN money.
The good news arising from yesterday’s briefing appears to be that the board is set on approving the continuation of the new gTLD program in less than two weeks.
The bad news is that there are a few dozen recommendations, grouped into 16 buckets, that it thinks need more work before they can be approved. It thinks these issues can be wrapped up by April 2024, however.
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