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Sunday, February 26, 2006
ICANN's Washington DC GNSO Policy Session
After two days of intensive discussions in Washington ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization is moving toward consensus on policies to guide the introduction of new TLDs. The overall sentiment expressed by the constituencies is that new gTLDs should be introduced. Although one party to this discussion (the Business Constituency) maintained that some of their members do not want any new TLDs, they have not adopted a constituency position that formally opposes their introduction.
The Washington GNSO meeting has produced the following position:
"Taking into account the lessons learnt from the limited introduction of new TLDs since 2000, the GNSO supports the continued introduction of new gTLDs. Prior to introducing new TLDs, the GNSO recognizes that the lessons learnt, the submissions made in response to PDP-Dec05 and further input, should be taken into account to identify and develop consensus on the selection criteria, allocation methods, and implementation processes."
Disclaimer: Please note that this statement has not yet been put to a vote, but the clear expectation is that it will soon be ratified.
The agenda topics for this session included only the first two points in the GNSO Terms of Reference, namely should new TLDs be introduced, and what selection criteria should be used.
With respect to selection criteria, a consensus is emerging that such criteria, the RFPs, and the subsequent contracts should all be "thinner". From my vantage point it appeared that the organization is moving toward an extremely lightweight de minimus approach (with constituencies such as the Registrars advocating not much more than bare-bones minimal technical criteria).
In view of the minimal approach being contemplated with respect to criteria, ICANN Vice-President of Business Operations Kurt Pritz has signalled that ICANN Staff is positioned to handle a good many new TLDs per year (that is to say, they have the resources which would allow for processing of at least 50-100 new TLDs per annum, perhaps more -- they pointed to their processing of significant numbers of registrar accreditation applications as an example of their ability to gear up to meet the challenge posed by a large number of applications).
The issue of quantity and periodicity of new TLDs was not broached at this session, but at least we know that sufficient staff resources are now in place that would allow for more than a limited introduction of new TLDs if that becomes the will of the community.
Bruce Tonkin, Chair of the GNSO, has provided the following overall set of observations regarding new TLDs (not necessarily a consensus view) that resulted from the Washington brainstorming session:
-- Negligible impact on security and stability.
-- New strings and strings with more than 3 characters that were not interoperable with End-user application software caused reliability problems.
-- Whole system needs to absorb a new TLD across all software before fully interoperable.
-- No institutional mechanism to inform technical, software development community and potential users.
-- Not enough education that new TLDs have been introduced. Little knowledge amongst Internet users of the new TLDs.
-- Selection and implementation process time consuming, expensive and unpredictable
-- Registry-registrar protocol was standardised (EPP)
-- Sunrise program difficult to design
-- Limitation on the number added caused problems for other applicants that met selection criteria
-- Independent evaluators an improvement after first round
-- Some Selection criteria not objective, clearly defined, and measurable enough to allow independent evaluation to be effective
-- Contracts too constraining to allow a registry operator to evolve their business model in response to market needs
-- No guarantee of financial gains from operating a new TLD
-- Long established TLDs have a powerful legacy advantage over new TLDs.
-- The switching costs for an existing registrant of a domain name from one TLD to another is significant.
-- The legacy TLDs are still continuing to grow strongly in registrations and at higher rate than the new TLDs.
-- Selection process was not a good judge of what succeeded in the market.
-- Selection process doesn't scale.
-- Individual negotiations of registry agreements after Board approves new TLD also time consuming.
-- Discretionary processes can be hijacked politically.
-- Registry operator business models may be limited by the distribution channel of all ICANN accredited registrars.
-- Small TLD is OK if meets the needs of the community that has put forward and doesn't exclude others that are within that Community.
-- The new gtlds introduced so far do not yet cater for parts of the international community that use character sets other than the limited set from the ASCII character range. This has also led to a growth in alternative root implementations and applications work arounds (e.g browser plug-ins).
-- A policy is required for the introduction of IDNs at the top level, and need to consider the political and cultural environments as demand for these IDNs is increasing.
-- Core of the Internet adapts faster than the edges of the Internet.
-- Participation of registries, registrars and resellers, end users required in testing, and identifying clearly the objectives of the test, policy implications, and measuring the outcomes of the test.
-- Need to consider whether to set a price and if so, how price is set in the registry agreement and how it impacts end-users.
-- Describe reasoning/objectives behind "proof-of-concept" rounds and whether objectives of new TLD introductions have been met.
-- Concern about whether open TLDs have resulted in new registrants compared to existing registrants in a legacy TLD simply registering to protect the brand.
-- For existing registrants in a legacy TLD that register in a new TLD, how many of these use the new registration to create a separate website, or a separate user of email, rather than simply use email or URL forwarding to the existing registration in the legacy TLD, or change their advertising/marketing materials to explicitly reference the new TLD in an email or website address.
-- Registry operators have learnt more about the market for new TLDs which may assist a new operator when launching a new TLD.
Finally, I am pleased to report that ICANN staff has read every single comment put forth by the public and by participants on ICANN's General Assembly discussion list; the work has been appreciated and has contributed significantly to the overall emerging consensus.