By Krista Papac
ICANN released its sixth version of the draft Applicant Guidebook for the new Top-Level Domain (TLD) program in April following three years of debate surrounding the rules and procedures that will outline how potential applicants will apply to own their own piece of Internet real estate.
Overall, the response has been positive.
ICANN has achieved what many in the Internet community doubted was possible – achieving a delicate balance amongst a diverse set of stakeholders while still progressing towards the rollout of the new Top-Level Domain program according to its proposed timeline released in March. This is no mean feat – ICANN has literally tiptoed through a political minefield in developing a set of rules and policies which address everyone’s concerns in a secure, pragmatic, and mostly workable fashion.
By now you would have had a chance to skim over the surface of the new Applicant Guidebook and supplementary documentation. However, buried deep within the 422 pages of text and amongst the myriad of redlines, there are some important decisions that affect those tied to the new TLD program.
Below I outline my opinion and commentary on the major changes made and what they mean for those involved in the new TLD program.
What do these important changes actually mean?
ICANN have clearly listened to the various stakeholders, are diligently checking off open items and have thoughtfully addressed remaining issues. As such, the recent concerns of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) feature heavily.
ICANN has addressed the majority of the GAC concerns being discussed over the past few months. The top GAC issues addressed include:
· String Evaluation – GAC Early Warning
· Government Objections Process and GAC Fees
· Root Zone Scaling
· Rights Protection – Trademark Clearinghouse
· Rights Protection – Uniform Rapid Suspension
· Consumer Protections
· Community based string issues
· Market and economic impact requests
· Post Delegation Disputes
· Further Requirements for Geographic Names
· Law Enforcement Recommendations
This is the result of a lot of hard work by ICANN, the GAC and the Community and goes a long way to helping ICANN achieve its June deadline for approving the Applicant Guidebook.
While the GAC got a lot of love, there is a little something for just about everyone in version six. For example:
· At Large Advisory Committee – The latest draft says ICANN will allocate funds to the ALAC to pay for some Objection Fees
· Intellectual Property Rights Holders – Rights Holders now get both a Sunrise & Trademark Claims Service and a “loser pays” mechanism has been included in the Uniform Rapid Suspension process
· Registries – Existing gTLD Registries suggested edits to the Registry Agreement, most of which are included in version 6
· Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group – The Independent Objector must now have at least one public comment in order to lodge an Objection
What are the outstanding issues?
While the end, or the beginning, appears to be in sight – there are still a few remaining items. In my eyes, these items can be addressed in time for ICANN to meet its 30 May, 2011 Final Guidebook and 20 June, 2011 Board Consideration deadlines.
· Rights Protection Mechanisms
o ICANN and the GAC still disagree on:
§ the ‘standard of proof,’
§ the ‘bad faith’ requirement,
§ including trademarks beyond ‘exact match’,
§ and the ‘use requirement’ during Sunrise and for the URS and PDDRP
· Registry/Registrar Separation
o The GAC are still not satisfied with ICANN’s decision on vertical integration nor with their documented rationale
· Support for Needy Applicants
o ICANN is awaiting guidance from the Joint Applicant Support (JAS) Working Group who submitted their report directly to the Board over this past weekend. It’s not clear why the GNSO was circumvented from the process, or how that will be addressed by the Board. While the ICANN Community all seem to agree there needs to be a mechanism for providing support to needy applicants, a workable solution needs to be found. I’ve not read the full report yet, but am hopeful.
· And finally – the all important Communications Timeline
o ICANN have committed to a four-month global communications plan, however we are all anxiously waiting to hear when that will begin.
What it all boils down to
The mere fact that (from my own observations) this version of the Applicant Guidebook has had virtually no public outcry in the blogs like previous versions have is surely an indicator of progress. This, combined with the fact that ICANN has largely addressed the outstanding issues and has committed to a timeline for approving the Applicant Guidebook in June, provides more evidence that new TLDs are coming and they are coming fast!
Based on the positive outcomes seen in version six, I have confidence that ICANN can resolve the remaining outstanding issues and finalize the Applicant Guidebook for public comment on 30 May.
The overall message to take away is: The extraordinary level of consultation and negotiation that has gone into producing the current version of the Applicant Guidebook is evidence that the model works, that ICANN is successfully making its way towards approving the Applicant Guidebook in June, and that we will be kicking off the new TLD program later this year.
At some point in time the ICANN community needs to understand that we have to take a leap of faith. That is how innovation happens. In doing so we can be comforted that with the years of consultation, discussion and compromise that has gone into this process, the leap is more a small step – a carefully calculated step.