The New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process (PDP) Working Group, established within the framework of ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) held an open meeting in the context of ICANN58, with the aim of advancing its work. As mentioned in its charter, the group is tasked with determining whether any changes should be made to the new generic top-level domains (gTLD) policy recommendations.
In the introductory part of the meeting, it was explained that the group had initially discussed broader issues such as: Should there be a new round of applications for new gTLDs? If so, should the categories of TLDs described in the 2012 Applicant Guidebook (AGB) be maintained, or should new categories be defined? Should there be rounds of applications, or should ICANN adopt a first-come-first-served principle? Currently, the group is focusing on more substantive issues, within the framework of four Work Tracks (WT). These are: (1) overall process, support, and outreach; (2) legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements; (3) string contention objections and disputes; and (4) Internationalised Domain Names and technical and operational.
The meeting continued with general introductions to the WTs, and further, more focused, discussions on a few of the issues covered within these tracks.
WT 1: Overall process, support, and outreach
This track looks into issues such as support and outreach regarding applications for new gTLD, communication (e.g. between ICANN and applicants), fees, and application queuing. Up until now, the sub-group mostly discussed issues related to fees (e.g. whether there should be different types of fees for different types of applications, and what areas should be emphasised when it comes to applicant support), and the possibility of introducing a pre-approval accreditation programme for registry service providers (RSPs).
During the discussions, concerns were raised with regards to the clarity of the new gTLD application process, and references were made to the fact that, during the 2012 round, there were several changes made in the process, after the release of the AGB. Many applicants found those changes as impacting the applications throughout the process. For future rounds, the amount of such ‘late implementation clarifications’ should be reduced, to bring more clarity and predictability into the process.
WT2: Legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements
The second track deals with issues related to the new gTLD registry agreement (whether there should be a template agreement for all types of gTLDs, or different templates for different types of gTLDs), mechanisms for rights protection at the second level – for domain names registered in new gTLDs, reserved names (whether the current policy for reserved names should change), registrant protection, ‘closed generics’, registry/registrar separation, and the global public interest.
On the issue of ‘closed generics’, the question is whether an entity could apply for a generic string, and restrict the registration of domain names to itself and its affiliates. The ICANN Board prohibited closed generics in the 2012 applications round (based on advice from the Governmental Advisory Committee), but the question remains open for possible future rounds. There have been voices both in favour of and against maintaining this prohibition, and comments were made on the need to actually define what a generic term is, and what the difference between generic and specific terms is.
On the issue of reserved names, there seems to be a preference among the group to largely maintain the existing policy regarding reserved names at the second level. Discussions were held on the advantages and disadvantages of producing a more or less definite list of reserved names, for registries to be able to use as reference and have more clarity on what is expected from them (as the current AGB only describes the categories of names that should be reserved).
WT3: String contention objections and disputes
This track looks into aspects related to: objections to new gTLD applications (e.g. on morality and public order grounds, legal rights objections, confusing similarity, etc.) and related costs and outcomes, string similarity in new gTLD applications, community applications (the overall approach to community-based applications, and how community priority evaluation worked), accountability mechanisms.
One of the issues raised during discussions on community-based applications (applications for gTLDs representing certain communities) was the possibility of introducing an ‘expression of interest’ period, during which entities would express their interest in applying for a certain string, and a timeframe would be made available for competing community-based applications to be submitted for some of the strings. A possible introduction of priority rounds for community-based applications was also discussed.
On the issue of string similarity, debates focused on the singulars – plurals cases (i.e. applications for two gTLDs that represent the singular and plural versions of the same word). Some mentioned that TLDs should be seen as public goods, and, as such, used in the public interest. As the public could be confused by singulars – plurals gTLDs, there should be a rule saying that such gTLDs should be prohibited. Others have argued that more attention needs to be paid to the fact that the plural version of an English word, for example, might have a different meaning in another language. It was also said that, instead of introducing a prohibition per se, emphasis should be put on education and awareness-raising among end-users.
WT4: Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) and technical & operational
The sub-group focusing on this track discusses issues such as: IDNs, universal acceptance, applicant evaluation (e.g. the technical and financial evaluation of the applications), name collisions, and security and stability.
Discussions focused on new gTLD applicant evaluations. During the 2012 round, applicants were subject to background checks on criminal, financial, and cybersquatting grounds. As none of the applications failed these checks, two main questions were raised: Should such evaluations be eliminated for future rounds? Or should the requirements rather be enhanced?
The group will continue addressing these and other issues, and plans to issue a call for comments on a number of questions related to the four tracks of work in the upcoming period. A draft version of this call is available. The group intends to publish an initial report for public comment by the end of the year.