After the application period for new gTLDs closed, the GNSO created the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Discussion Group, in 2012, with the aim to follow-up and review the first round of the New gTLD Program. The deliverables of the Discussion Group were published in June 2015 and they included a matrix of topics that should be revisited. The GNSO Council requested the production of an Issue Report, which was published in December 2015, providing the framework for the initiation of a PDP that may lead to changes or adjustments for subsequent new gTLD rounds.
In December 2015, the GNSO approved the creation of the Working Group on New gTLD Subsequent Procedures (SubPro WG), to review and improve, if necessary, the 2007 GNSO’s policy recommendations. The WG is tasked with: (a) clarifying, amending or overriding existing policy principles, recommendations, and implementation guidance; (b) developing new policy recommendations; (c) supplementing or developing new implementation guidance. Any changes to the current policy would affect procedures for introducing additional gTLDs in the future.
The SubPro WG started by analysing the principles and policy recommendations from the 2007 GNSO policy. The aim was to assess if these recommendations still hold and to identify the ones that require further discussion.
The WG clustered its substantive discussions in two areas: a discussion on overarching issues and a discussion based on working tracks. The following overarching questions were shared with all ICANN supporting organisations and advisory committees at the beginning of the WG’s work.
- Cancelling subsequent procedures
A discussion on whether or not additional gTLDs should be introduced has taken place. A list of pros and cons of the creation of new gTLDs has been proposed.
Predictability is critical for planning and decision-making. However, adjustments were introduced throughout the new gTLD round, including in important documents, such as the AGB and the base registry agreement. Some standards on predictability have been identified.
- Community engagement
This issue is deeply linked with the need for predictability. Without robust community engagement, it is conceivable that New gTLD Program requirements could be altered after the launch of the programme.
- Applications assessed in rounds
This issue stems from one GNSO recommendation says that applications must initially be assessed in rounds until the scale of demand is clear. Nevertheless, other methods have been envisioned, such as a perpetually open programme, accepting applications on a rolling basis. A list of pros and cons has been created.
- Different TLD types
In the AGB, only two types of TLDs had been identified: a community-based application and a standard application. Some examples of categories that were proposed for consideration include closed generics, further refinements around .brand TLDs, sensitive strings, and strings related to regulated markets. The last two stem largely from the GAC’s Beijing Communiqué on Safeguards on New gTLDs.
- Application submission limits
There were no policy recommendations in the 2007 GNSO final report that sought to place restrictions on the number of applications that could be submitted from a single applicant. This issue has been discussed by the working group, and a list of pros and cons of establishing restrictions has been elaborated.
Within the WG, several work tracks were established to carry on work on specific sub-sets of issues:
- Work track 1: Overall process, support for applicants, and outreach
The sub-group has been looking into questions such as: How can the Applicant Guidebook be improved to ensure that it meets the needs of multiple audiences? How can the application process avoid developing processes on an as-needed basis? How can the systems used to support the New gTLD Program be made more robust, user-friendly, and better integrated? Should the new gTLD application fee be variable based on such factors as application type, multiple identical applications, etc?
- Work track 2: Legal and regulatory aspects and contractual obligations
The sub-group has been considering issues such as: reviewing the composition of the reserved name list to determine if additions, modification, or subtractions are needed; considering whether the registry/registrar relationship should have additional standardisation and regulation; determining whether there should be restrictions around exclusive use of generic TLDs.
- Work track 3: String contention, objections, and disputes
The scope of work within this track includes issues such as: determining whether string contention evaluation results were consistent and effective in preventing user confusion; examining whether dispute resolution and challenge processes provide adequate redress options or if additional redress options specific to the programme are needed; determining whether the overall process to communities was consistent with recommendations and implementation guidance.
- Work track 4: Internationalised domain names – technical and operational aspects
Issues explored within this track include: evaluating whether rules around IDNs properly accounted for recommendations from IDN WG; determining and addressing policy guidance needed for the implementation of IDN variant TLDs; examining whether financial and technical criteria were designed properly to allow applicants to demonstrate their capabilities while allowing evaluators to validate their capabilities.
- Work track 5: Geographic names at the top-level
This sub-group focused on developing proposed recommendations regarding the treatment of geographic names at the top-level. Its final report addressed to the full WG was published in October 2019.
The SubPro WG published its initial report in July 2018. The report, which was under public consultation until late September 2018, includes a series of preliminary recommendations, options, and questions for community input.
- Some of the recommendations and options outlined in the initial report
- A new phase of the New gTLD Program, once launched, should be subject to a new Predictability Framework, to address issues that arise regarding the introduction of new gTLDs. As part of the Predictability Framework, a Standing Implementation Review Team should be constituted after the publication of the Applicant Guidebook to consider changes in the implementation, execution and/or operations of the New gTLD Program after its launch, and the introduction of any further evaluation guidelines not available to applicants when applications were submitted.
- When substantive/disruptive changes to the AGB or application processing are necessary and made through the Predictability Framework discussed above, there should be a mechanism that allows impacted applicants the opportunity to either (a) request an appropriate refund or (b) be tracked into a parallel process that deals with the discrete issues directly without impacting the rest of the programme.
- The next introduction of new gTLDs should be in the form of a ‘round’. Concerning subsequent introductions of the new gTLDs, the WG generally believes that it should be known before the launch of the next round either (a) the date in which the next introduction of new gTLDs will take place or (b) the specific set of criteria and/or events that must occur before the opening up of the subsequent process.
- Each of the categories recognised by the 2012 AGB, both explicitly and implicitly, should continue to be recognised on a going-forward basis. These include standard TLDs, community-based TLDs, TLDs for which a governmental entity serves as the registry operator, and geographic TLDs. In addition, the WG also recognises that .brand TLDs should also be formally established as a category. The WG did not reach an agreement on adding any additional categories of gTLDs and is asking for community input on whether and what additional categories should be added.
- No limits should be imposed on either the number of gTLD applications in total or the number of applications from any particular entity.
- An AGB of some form should continue to be utilised in future waves of applications. The guidebook should be made more user-friendly.
- Some new generic top-level domains should be IDNs.
- For the next round of new gTLDs, there should continue to be a minimum of four (4) months from the time in which the final AGB is released and the time until which applications would be finally due. There should be a sufficient period of time available prior to the opening of the application submission period to allow for outreach efforts related to applicant support and other programme elements.
- Applicant support should continue to be open to applicants regardless of their location so long as they meet the other criteria. Financial support should go beyond the application fee, such as including application writing fees, related attorney fees, and ICANN registry-level fees. ICANN should consider whether additional funding is required for the next round opening of the Applicant Support Program.
- ICANN should not attempt to create a ‘skills-based’ system like ‘digital archery’ to determine the processing order of applications. ICANN should apply again for an appropriate license to conduct drawings to randomise the order of processing applications.
- When it comes to reserved names, keep all existing registrations at the top level, but add the names of the Public Technical Identifiers, and special-use domain names through the procedure described in IETF Request For Comments 6761. At the second level, keep all existing reservations, but update Schedule 5 to include the measures for letter/letter two-character ASCII labels to avoid confusion with corresponding country codes adopted by the ICANN Board on 8 November 2016.
- Several options emerged as potential paths forward with respect to Closed Generics (a closed generic is a TLD string that is a generic term and is proposed to be operated by a participant exclusively for its own benefit), though the Work Track was not able to settle on any one of them: no Closed Generics; allowing Closed Generics if they serve a public interest goal; allowing Closed Generics but require the applicant to commit to a code of conduct; allowing Closed Generics with no additional conditions but establish an objection process for Closed Generics.
- Include a mechanism to evaluate the risk of name collisions in the TLD evaluation process as well during the transition to delegation phase. Efforts should be undertaken to create a ‘Do Not Apply’ list of TLD strings that pose a substantial name collision risk whereby applications for such strings would not be allowed to be submitted.
- ICANN should create a new substantive appeal mechanism specific to the New gTLD Program. Such an appeals process will not only look into whether ICANN violated the Bylaws by making (or not making) a certain decision, but will also evaluate whether the original action or action was done in accordance with the Applicant Guidebook.
A report summarising the public comments on the WG’s initial report was published by ICANN in November 2018. In the same month, the WG published a supplemental initial report covering topics not addressed in the July 2018 report. This too was open for public comment (until late December 2018). The sub-group on Work track 5: Geographic names at the top-level published its final report addressed to the full WG in October 2019.
Three sub-groups were then formed within the WG to review the public comments submitted on the initial report and the supplemental initial report: Sub Group A, Sub Group B, and Sub Group C. They completed their work in March 2019. The full WG completed its substantial review of the public comments on its initial report and supplemental initial report in November 2019; throughout its work, the group considered the comments received, as well as what changes need to be made to the recommendation to be included in its final report.
Current work and next steps
As of January 2020, the WG is focusing on two tracks of work:
- Discussing topic areas where additional deliberations are needed before the group can draft final recommendations: string contention mechanisms of last resort, limited appeals mechanisms, and the Predictability Framework.
- Developing draft final recommendations.
In line with its work plan, the WG intends to finalise its report and publish it for public comments in July 2020. A final report is expected to be submitted to the GNSO in December 2020. Meanwhile, the group publishes period updates on the status of its work via its newsletters.