An official update on the new gTLD program / Applicant Guidebook process has just been published. Most of you reading this will immediately know what that means but I’m going to use a third label which isn’t ICANNese to talk about it: Internet extensions.
ICANN has been working on a process for widely opening up the Internet space for a number of years. As that process has got closer to reality, people have started paying it more and more attention.
The “new gTLD program” envisions a very significant increase in the number of “generic top-level domains” – or Internet extensions like dot-com, dot-net, dot-info etc. At the moment there are 21 of these extensions of three characters or more. But the gTLD program is estimating a further 500 within the next two years or so. It’s a huge change in the Internet’s domain name system.
The “Applicant Guidebook” is what it says it is – a guidebook for those that plan to apply for a new Internet extension. In it, all the rules, procedures and processes are outlined in some depth. And currently ICANN is running an extensive and ongoing public comment and review process using that guidebook as the focus for discussion.
Which leads to the question of this blog post: so where are we up to with these new Internet extensions?
The Sydney meeting
ICANN makes its big decisions at international public meetings where the Internet community comes together and thrashes things out. There are currently three a year and the next one is at the end of next month, 21-26 June in Sydney, Australia.
It makes sense then to outline progress of the new gTLD work in terms of ICANN meetings – what will be done before the meeting, happen at the meeting, and be done for the next meeting (in Seoul at the end of October).
So, following the announcement made last night:
- We won’t be producing a third version of the Applicant Guidebook for Sydney (the first was published in October 2008 for our Cairo meeting in November; the second in February 2009 for our Mexico City meeting in March)
- Instead, the focus will be on what we have called “overarching issues” – particular areas of concern flagged up by the community
- However, there will be some excerpts of the guidebook with suggested changes following community feedback from the second version
There were four overarching issues identified back in February:
- Trademark protection
- Security and stability
- Malicious conduct
- Demand and economic analysis
ICANN’s staff has been working hard with the community to find solutions to the questions and concerns raised about each.
Most visible has been trademark protection. In a nutshell, people are concerned that an explosion in Internet extensions will also see an explosion in cybersquatting and companies will either not be able to keep track or they will have to spend small fortunes making sure they are. So they want additional protections in place to stop this from happening.
On the flipside, many in the Internet community are concerned that if companies get too many controls on this expansion of the Internet that they will end up with too much influence and this may damage the innovative edge that the Internet has become renowned for. So a careful balance is being sought.
To cut a long story short, there is currently a report produced by those companies most concerned about this issue which has been put out for public comment and that comment period closes on 24 May – in time for comment to be summarized and the results to be discussed in Sydney. The hope, of course, is to get closer to a solution by the end of the meeting. There will no doubt be other suggestion solutions but at the moment this report is the focus of community attention.
So, that’s trademark protection. Oh – no – a quick addition. After Sydney, once ICANN (hopefully) has a fairly solid solution, the staff are going to run four meetings in London, New York, Hong Kong and Abu-Dhabi during July/August so that word gets out and people are able to make suggestions for any further tweaks.
This is one of the problems of overseeing a global network – you have to get the word out around the world so that people don’t feel as if they didn’t have a chance to comment on the proposal before it happens.
Also, just to give a quick insight into the difficulties of this sort of work, if the community in Sydney still disagrees widely about the best solution to trademark protection, ICANN staff wouldn’t have much to take around the world and so would have to consider cancelling the planned global meetings
(as well as devise another way of trying to find a solution to the issue).
Anyway, quickly going through the rest of the overarching issues:
- Security and stability: the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) has long been a part of ICANN and it has been looking at the issue of what impact a large number of new Internet extensions may have on the domain name system. The SSAC will have a series of public meetings in Sydney discussing their work on this so far.
- Malicious Conduct. I think this has been renamed “malicious behavior” because we are talking about people behaving in ways that may be legal but which are still “malicious” – and “conduct” has legal implications. Anyway, the very popular “e-crime” session from the last meeting in Mexico City has been adapted to become a “malicious behavior” session – so serving two purposes in one session in Sydney.
- Demand and economic analysis. This was about trying to foresee the economic impact that the new Internet extensions may have – so everyone has a clearer idea about what we were embarking upon. ICANN commissioned two reports to this end and they were published for Mexico City and put out to public comment. I’m not sure what additional work has been done in this regard but there will be something for Sydney.
Those aren’t the only issues surrounding the program but they are the big ones. Other issues include the complexities surrounding the fact that the new gTLD program will also include for the first time ever Internet extensions in other scripts and languages (called Internationalized Domain Names, or IDNs). So you will be able to have extensions in Chinese, Arabic, Hangul and so on. As you can imagine this is an additional layer of complexity.
And there is also an issue of “geographic names” – where people may apply for an Internet extension that is the name of a country or a city, town etc. Governments are, for obvious reasons, concerned about this. But at the same time there are already some people that have got the backing of the city councils and so on to apply for and run an Internet extension named after that city. So, this is another area where there needs to be careful discussions about what to do so everyone is comfortable with the final solution.
Your participation and comments
It is worth noting at this point that the reason ICANN goes through this extensive and repetitive comment and review process is so that everyone has a chance to make their case and have their views noted and listened to. We do this with every piece of important work.
One of the most common gripes however is that ICANN has “ignored” someone’s comments. No matter how many times staff try to explain that changes are only made once a huge variety of different views have been considered, it is of little consolation to those who believe strongly that their perspective was the correct one but that it wasn’t followed.
We do understand this frustration and so recently we have been producing extensive and objective summaries and analyses of the comments received on important pieces of work. The idea is that while you may still be annoyed that your suggestion wasn’t included, you can see all the other ideas and options outlined by others. Where possible, ICANN staff explains the logic and reasoning behind going one route rather than another.
Staff are never going to get it right straight off and so that is why the big items of work – and this new gTLD program is the biggest at the moment – are put through several iterations of public comment so that the careful compromises are then put out again for review. The idea of course is that over time people grow more and more comfortable with the proposed solution.
Anyway, with that in mind, we should be producing an extensive summary/analysis of the comments made to the second version of the Applicant Guidebook before the end of this month.
Normally that summary/analysis would be used to produce a third version of the Applicant Guidebook. But because work is still continuing on the overarching issues, it was decided not to put out an entire new version that would have big, undecided gaps in. Particularly when the overarching issues will have an impact in many different sections of the overall guidebook.
So, the focus is on the overarching issues for Sydney, plus there will be excerpts of parts of the guidebook that include suggested changes derived from the feedback received to the second version. The idea is to progress both with the overarching issues and with those parts of the guidebook that people specifically focussed on last time around.
So there you go, that’s where we’re up to. An enormous amount of work to be done in Sydney. The hope is that the various meetings go well enough that it will be possible to produce the third version of the Applicant Guidebook in time for the Seoul meeting in October.
If that happens, and if people are pretty happy with it in Seoul (so there are comparatively few changes), then it should be possible to get the whole thing agreed to and signed up by the end of the year. And then the whole process could open up in the first quarter of 2010.
So that’s the current timeline – although it is all dependent on you, the community, to find consensus on a lot of still-undecided issues. Staff is doing all it can to get that agreement as fast as possible without rushing people. If it all goes smoothly, we will see an extraordinary expansion of the Internet’s naming system in 2010 – and who knows how that will change how we all see this revolutionary network.
But if there are still problems and issues, ICANN — us as staff and you as the community — will continue working away until we get there.
See you all in Sydney.