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Amsterdam Meeting Topic: A Plan for Action Regarding New gTLDs

At its 23 August 2002 meeting, the ICANN Board of Directors directed ICANN President Stuart Lynn to produce a plan for action concerning the implementation of the Report of the New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force. On 18 October 2002, Dr. Lynn posted for comment A Plan for Action Regarding New gTLDs in response to the Board's direction. That plan is a topic for the ICANN Public Forum in Amsterdam on 14 December 2002 and will be considered by the ICANN Board at its 15 December 2002 meeting.

Over twenty comments were received, all of which have been posted on the ICANN forum website. The following summary discusses those comments.

Comments on Plan for Action Regarding New gTLDs

Note: these are summaries of the comments received and posted as of 12-10-02. The original comments should be read in their entirety to understand the rationale behind the statements made. Responses are entirely my own. I am grateful for all of the thoughtful comments and the careful reading of the proposed Action Plan.

Stuart Lynn, President.
10 December 2002.

  • Ray Fassett asks that the reasons for not including unsponsored, particularly restricted, new gTLDs should be presented.

    Response: The reasons are explained in the "Plan for Action". New sponsored gTLDs raise fewer business concerns than unsponsored gTLDs, allowing for parallel processing in advance of the evaluation program.

  • Richard Henderson (a) takes issue with what he claims is my "exoneration" of the conduct of unsponsored new TLDs, yet notes that the Action Plan does not advocate new unsponsored gTLDs at this time (b) states that it would be unacceptable to move forward on unsponsored new TLDs until the evaluation is complete and the agreement re-written (c) Opposes the notion of "taxonomizing" the namespace by ICANN (d) claims that ICANN's "laissez-faire" attitude towards the new unsponsored registries was in part responsible for the "fiasco" that occurred.

    Response: I neither exonerate nor condemn the conduct of the unsponsored new TLDs. This is something to be left to the evaluation. Mr. Henderson's statement that it would be "unacceptable" to move forward with unsponsored new TLDs until the evaluation is complete is entirely consistent with the Action Plan's recommendation. Mr. Henderson's opposition to "taxonomizing" the top level namespace will surely be taken into account by the GNSO should the Board accept my recommendation that the GNSO be asked to consider this question.

  • Frederick Harris states that ICANN should not move forward on any new gTLDs until it has evaluated the first round and shown it can "manage" them.

    Response: Mr. Harris' opinion is noted.

  • David Johnson and Susan Crawford are opposed to any notion of ICANN creating a taxonomy and are opposed to new sponsored TLDs that are constrained by current contractual provisions. They advocate that how ICANN approaches new TLDs as an overarching question is more important than launching any new ones this year.

    Response: The Action Plan did not advocate "taxonomizing" the namespace, only that the question of how to proceed be referred to the GNSO. Mr. Johnson's and Ms. Crawford's objections to a taxonomy are noted and will be passed on to the GNSO should my recommendation be accepted. The concern about constraints of current contractual provisions is also noted, and should be a topic of the overall evaluation process.

  • George Adams advocates "non-English" TLDs.

    Response: This is a related, but different, problem than that of non-Roman scripts considered in the IDN discussions. Most if not all of the current gTLD suffixes have mnemonic value primarily in English and some other languages, particularly many of those that also use Roman characters – thus, for example, .com, .info, .museum, .biz obviously do not have meaning in all languages. It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine suffixes that are both easily recognizable and are not rooted in a group of languages. Perhaps the IDN script problem needs to be solved first.

  • Richard Henderson wants to know the status and availability of the Registry Evaluation Reports. He states that no judgments can be made about moving forward without these reports.

    Response: For staffing reasons we are behind on assembling these reports. We are now addressing this issue.

  • Jan Siren states that moving forward with three new sTLDs is incompatible with any possibility of rationalizing the top level namespace. The author also states that delays in moving forward with NTEPPTF report recommendations are symptomatic of ICANN's lack of staff.The author also suggests that the whole process requires user input that is not part of current procedures.

    Response: This first point is recognized in the Action Plan. There is a tradeoff that the Board will need to consider between responding to a perceived need to move forward and the potential of creating conflict in the event a final decision is made to "taxonomize" the namespace. I am not sure that 3 more names significantly increases the problem over the status quo. I agree with the comment regarding the evaluation, but feel this will be remedied with the expansion allowed by this year's budget and by the reform plans. With respect to the point regarding user input, users are absolutely free to provide input, if nothing else by the very public comment process used by the author of this comment. Any selection process will likewise be open to public comment.

  • Danny Younger takes exception with my statement to the effect that there appears to be comparatively little demand for new TLDs at this time, but suggests that few are coming forward because of the lack of systemic predictability with the ICANN process. He also advocates vastly opening up the top level namespace, not just restricting it to a few.

    Response: This is an interesting conjecture of Mr. Younger, but it is just that. I find it difficult to believe that those who have a serious interest would not articulate that interest in clear voices – ICANN, after all, is commonly the recipient of vocal comments. Perhaps Mr. Younger should let these supposed tens (hundreds, thousands?) of potential operators speak for themselves, as Mr. Faucett does (see below). I stick with my statement: relatively few have contacted me (as my aging memory best recalls, only five have contacted me since I have been in office).

  • NameCritic agrees with Danny Younger, accusing me of being an "outright liar" and a "head puppet".

    Response: I do love these kinds of comments, especially from anonymous sources. Experience tells me that those who resort to name calling do so because they have no substance in their arguments.

  • Ray Fassett states that any process is flawed that involves ICANN making inevitably subjective decisions to choose three applications from among hundreds or thousands submitted. He advocates reopening the original sponsored new TLD applications first and considering them "in full public view", and even not moving forward at all if none of them are selected. As an alternative, if the proposed process does indeed move forward, he recommends that it be stated up front that all applicants will receive some special standing in future rounds of new sTLD processes should their application be unsuccessful. He claims it is impossible to remove all criticisms of subjectivity from the process, noting that improvements in the .org selection process did not obviate such criticisms. On balance, he advocates no expansion at this time until the DNSO completes its assigned task.

    Response: Mr. Fassett raises an important point. It is unlikely that there will ever be an evaluation process that will be regarded as objective by everyone, especially by those whose applications did not succeed in the process (who would ever admit that their application simply was not as good as others, when complaining about the process has so much more press value in today's world?). And the hubbub does create a diversion. The question for the Board is whether the diversion is worth the advantage of moving forward. Certainly ICANN has learned more about how to conduct these evaluation and selection processes since the original round in 2000, but Mr. Fassett's point is well taken. His point about favoring the original applications is interesting, but it is likely that with the passage of time the authors of many of the original applications would wish to update them to the point that they in effect become new applications. But Mr. Fassett's point about looking forward in this regard is something to be considered.

  • "Marshall" advocates a .adult or a .xxx gTLD.

    Response: If an application for a sponsored TLD reflects "Marshall's" comment, it would be considered. However, the Board has articulated in the past that selections based on material content are not likely to be accepted given (a) the lack of global agreement on what constitutes admissible and inadmissible content, and (b) in the case of .xxx, the lack on any enforcement ability to compel compliance.

  • Mark Perkins (via Jennifer Miatt) advocates that a wider audience than the DNSO be sounded out on how to expand the top level namespace. He agrees there should be some analysis of copyright [sic: trademark??] holders but not just from the perspective of intellectual property holders. He also comments on some of the twelve Criticality 1 questions that form part of the evaluation, in particular: Questions (1) and (4) in Mr. Perkin's view look too narrowly from a trademark holders' perspectives, and need to consider abuse by trademark holders; Question (8) (and also a component of the Monitoring Program) should not just look at how well the new restricted and sponsored gTLDs have restricted registrations to their charters, but also to what extent they have fulfilled their charters (e.g., has .pro rolled out to a broad range of professional groups).

    Response: With respect to the first point, the new Policy Development Process associated with the GNSO requires the GNSO Council to solicit broad input into the process. And all such material would be posted for public comment. Mr. Perkins' concerns about balanced responses to some of the evaluation questions are noted and will be passed on to the Evaluation Advisory Team should the Board accept my recommendation to move forward.

  • Michael Prolman asks whether we really need new TLDs given the prevalence of Google and other search engines.

    Response: This is a very good question. In many conversations I have had on this subject, my own sampling indicates that there are as many, if not more, individuals who favor no more TLDs as there are those who advocate moving forward. One answer to this dilemma is to let the marketplace decide to the extent that other boundary conditions can be satisfied. Some, however, feel that would be an unnecessarily confusing approach that could leave too many registrants high and dry in the face of failures.

  • Page Howe advocates returning the US$350,000 pro-rata among the original applicants, claiming that the applicants would not benefit from further consultants and evaluations.

    Response: The purpose of the original fees was not to benefit the applicants per se – although a few would clearly benefit  – but to fund an entire "proof of concept", including an evaluation of what was done.

  • Ken Ryan proposes that the address string be modified to include a numeric qualifier separated by a distinguishable character. Thus lotus*1 and lotus*2 would be distinguishable domain names in his recommendation. He seems to suggest that this would obviate the need for new TLDs.

    Response: This is a question for the IETF to decide. However, the use of such a suffix may not remove the problem of potential trademark infringement.

  • Milton Mueller supports the notion of moving forward with new sTLDs, but suggests a larger number such as ten instead of the three proposed. This would substantially reduce "market distortion" caused by eliminating what might be valid applicants. He is also strongly opposed to any notion of "taxonomizing" or rationalizing the top level namespace, and argues that the DNSO's time should not be wasted by even posing the question.

    Response: Three or ten sound like equally arbitrary numbers, even though understandably it may be easier to select ten than to narrow the field to three. However, three at this time is a more manageable number from the perspective of (a) it being regarded as an extension of "the proof of concept" (b) working through the agreement negotiation, implementation, and tracking process, and (c) not seriously interfering with any future decision on how to expand the top level generic namespace. Of course, in his second comment Mr. Mueller strongly objects to any notion that the DNSO should even consider the questions of whether to "taxonomize" the namespace. I find Mr. Mueller's comment surprising given his laudable and continuing emphasis on the need for ICANN to be more bottom-up. Surely he is not advocating a top-down ex cathedra decision by the Board?

  • Michael Heltzer, speaking for the International Trademark Association, states that they have no objection to launching the 3 new sponsored gTLDs provided that adequate safeguards (enumerated in the comment itself) are in place to protect to ensure that the charter is very precisely defined and only registrants that comply with that charter can obtain domain names in the gtLD – although they would prefer that the full evaluation of the original 7 new gTLDs were completed first. INTA also endorses the recommendation for the board to seek the DNSO's advice on how to evolve the top-level generic namespace.

    Response: Mr. Heltzer's and INTA's comments are noted, particularly the need for well-defined charters with adequate safeguards.

  • Bret Fausett writes on behalf of the applicants for the .iii TLD application (originally submitted in 2000 as one of the 42 original applicants) re-iterating their desire and ability to move forward with their application whenever it might be approved by the ICANN Board.

    Response: Mr. Fausett's comment is noted. The original .iii proposal, it should be clarified, was for an unsponsored gTLD.

  • Vint Cerf replies to Bret Fausett asking why .name does not already fill the need envisaged by .iii.

    Response: Mr. Fausett already did. And then Dr. Cerf replied.

  • United States Council for International Business advocates the development of a transparent process for the selection of new gTLDs based on objective criteria, notes that new gTLDs should ensure differentiated space, and articulates principles for proceeding.

    Response: USCIB's paper provides valuable input.

  • The Business Constituency has prepared a Position Paper that proposes way to think about expansion of the generic top level namespace, proposing six principles to circumscribe such expansion. The Paper endorses referring this question to the DNSO as proposed in the Action Plan, and in the meantime supports the proposal for up to three more sponsored or restricted gTLDs, suggesting that the six principles be used to provide guidance in the selection.

    Response: The BC paper will provide valuable input into the GNSO's deliberations should the Board accept my proposal for referring the question to the GNSO.

  • David Steele, on behalf of IODesign (which applied to ICANN for the .web TLD in 2000), states that the Action Plan is "a positive step in the natural expansion of the DNS" and expresses the hope that ICANN will promptly move forward with that expansion and include unsponsored TLDs also.

    Response: Mr. Steele's comments provide valuable perspective.

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