GAC discussions on new generic top-level domains

23 Mar 2017 01:00h

Event report

The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) held several discussions throughout the week on issues related to new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). Governments explored several topics considered to be of high priority (e.g. community applications, geographic names, applicant support). They also engaged in exchanges with the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process (PDP) Working Group (WG) (established within the framework of ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) with the aim to determine whether any changes should be made to the new gTLD policy recommendations).

The GAC’s contribution to the New gTLD Subsequent PDP WG

The WG explained that it was collecting input on and exploring substantive issues, within the framework of four work tracks: overall process, support, and outreach; legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements; string contention objections and disputes; and Internationalised Domain Names and technical and operational issues. Several questions related to this issues have been prepared by the group, and the community will soon be invited to provide comments. Early input from the GAC will be welcome, and not necessarily in the shape of formal GAC advice (as elaborating such advice could be a rather lengthy process).

A question was raised as to whether previous GAC advice on new gTLD issues has been taken into account by the WG. In response, it was said that the WG has been considering GAC’s advice, but that, as it explores issues that have not been previously tackled by governments, additional input would be welcome. Several examples were given of issues on which GAC could provide feedback, such as applicant support, categories of new gTLDs, and community applications. These and other issues were discussed in more detail, as outlined below.

Outreach and applicant support

Governments expressed concerns regarding the fact that there were very few applications from developing countries during the 2012 round. Although entities from such countries could have applied for support, this opportunity was not extensively taken advantage of. The WG is paying careful consideration to this issue, looking at questions such as: How to make sure that more applicants are aware of and apply for support? What other issues should be improved when it comes to applicant support?

Geographic names

Another area of concern for governments is related to the use of geographic names as gTLDs. As there are several efforts within the ICANN community dedicated to exploring this issue (including, but not limited to the GAC and the PDP WG), a joint working session is planned for the upcoming Johannesburg ICANN meeting, in June 2017.

Categories of gTLDs

As part of its advice related to the 2012 round of new gTLD applications, the GAC requested that the categories of gTLDs be more clearly separated. The possibility of introducing new categories of gTLDs (in addition to, for example, the brand and community applications, more or less recognised as part of the 2012 round) is now being discussed by the WG, which is trying to determine the impact such a change would have on the application, evaluation, and contracting process. The group is also discussing whether, in case there are clearly defined categories of gTLDs, there should be any prioritisation for some of them. For example, as brand and geographic names are seen by some as among the most sustainable types of new gTLDs, should applications for such gTLDs be prioritised during the evaluation process?

Community TLDs

A presentation was delivered on a report commissioned by the Council of Europe (CoE) on the issue of community-based applications (CBAs). The report focuses on ICANN’s policies and procedures concerning CBAs, and CBA-related opportunities and challenges from a human rights perspective. One of the main findings of the report was that it is insufficiently clear on which public interest values are served by CBAs and which categories of individuals or groups should be regarded as communities. Several recommendations are included in the report, on issues such as: the definition of the term ‘community’; community objections (for gTLDs representing names of relevance for certain communities); community priority evaluation; accountability mechanisms; and other concepts for subsequent gTLD rounds (e.g. considering community applications first; inviting applications in staggered batches to better manage workflow; developing an entirely different community track which would include restrictions to ensure applicants are accountable to their communities and provide real benefit to them).

GAC members emphasised the need to further reflect on what kind of changes should be implemented for new application rounds, in order to make sure that the public interest will be achieved in the end. It was also mentioned that community and geographic TLDs could be the ones to be most relevant in the future.

The CoE explained that it did not expect the GAC to endorse the recommendations outlined in the report, but rather to suggest that these recommendations are considered in the context of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP.

Other issues raised during the discussions were related to:

  • Rights protection mechanisms (aimed at ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights when introducing new gTLDs). The results of the current review of existing mechanisms will feed into the subsequent rounds PDP.
  • Application fees. Lowering the fees related to applying for new gTLDs could represent an incentive for small and medium-sized enterprises to enter the TLD market. Although, during the 2012 round, there was a process for reducing the fees for some categories of applicants, this was not taken advantage of. The process will therefore need to be further analysed in order to determine how it can be improved.
  • Applications still not finalised. At the moment, some 90 new gTLD applicants have yet to finalise their application process, for various reasons. Should a new round of new gTLDs be launched nevertheless? On the one side, it was said that there is no need to stop a new round until these cases are finalised, and that the only measure that could be taken with regard to these applications is to make sure that no one else applies for the respective strings. On the other hand, it was outlined that these remaining applications are the problematic ones, and that maybe it would be wise to wait for their finalisation, and apply any lessons learnt to subsequent new gTLD rounds.

The GAC will continue to explore these and other issues, and to engage with the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP.