To put it simply, the initial step was to develop the policy along with technical studies and security analysis such as root server scaling or name collision management. The Applicant Guidebook was designed to inform potential candidates of the various steps they would have to go through (application, disputes, delegations, etc.). When this was set in motion, the call for applications was somewhat successful, with over 1,900 applications. Eventually, the new gTLDs were deployed one after the other in the root, with an ad-hoc mechanism, whenever necessary, for those gTLDs that presented a risk of collision.
The preparatory work of that first round consisted of tens of thousands of hours of cumulated phone calls and meetings from all parts of the ICANN Community to cover each and every dimension of the project. From the policy work, the risks of collisions, the root stability, the applicant guidebook, rights protections, dispute resolutions and, in the end, the practicalities and costs of putting in place an operational system that could handle more than a thousand applications.
Not all applications were free of complications. What were the main hitches?
As with all innovation, the endorsement of those new gTLDs hasn't been uniform and there have been quite a few challenges to overcome for some of them, at some stage or another. Competing applications were made for the exact same TLD string, for example. Some applications created some controversy, such as the well-known example of .amazon, the string being both a brand and the name of a river and region.
Sometimes the challenge arose after delegation with the universal acceptance of those new gTLDs by applications. Some gTLDs were returned for lack of a business case. DNS abuse may also have been easier in a limited number of new gTLDs that offered very cheap or free registrations. On the other hand, several other gTLDs are real success stories, not only in terms of registrations but also in terms of audience and number of internet users, particularly for websites. Overall, success hasn't been uniform across all new TLDs. Nonetheless, although new gTLDs may not have been the overnight revolution some had hoped for, they are here to stay and many of them have fared very well.
Does anyone ever tell you about the extensions that have left the namespace or have become inactive? Read on to find out more about extensions that are no longer available.
The new gTLDs round has created some expectations in the internet community. What has the GNSO done over the years and what problems remain to be solved?
The ICANN community and in particular the GNSO have been working strenuously to prepare for this new round. After the preparatory work, a new working group called the "New gTLD Subsequent Procedures" PDP Working Group was approved by the GNSO Council in early 2016. Their final goal was to review the policy recommendations developed for the 2012 round. The GNSO, in coordination with all SO/ACs, has worked hard over five years to review those policies and has delivered new ones for the future round. Aspects such as processes, fees, legal questions, TLD types, rights protections, disputes, IDNs for a total of 41 different topics were taken into account.
The conclusions were drawn up in the Final Report at the end of 2020, which was approved by the GNSO Council in February 2021 and handed over to the ICANN Board for consideration. So, most of the policy work for the next gTLD round is over. Now it is up to the staff at ICANN to outline the operational aspects for the Board's consideration which ultimately determines the implementation and the actual launch of the new round.
In September 2021, the Board indeed requested ICANN org to conduct an Operational Design Phase for this new round, which for ten months should clarify all operational aspects related to implementing the policies recommended by the GNSO and ultimately inform the Board's deliberations for their vote. In parallel, the Board has invited the GNSO and the GAC to further consider one particular topic, the closed generics TLDs, in order to determine whether any additional policy guidance could be provided to the Board on the matter. The GNSO Council and the GAC have been preparing for that dialogue.
In mid-May, the GNSO Council also discussed how to complete substantive work identified by the SubPro Working Group in advance of the expected implementation, notably on Applicant Support through a possible GNSO Guidance Process. So anything that we at GNSO could do to facilitate - I dare not say expedite - the launch of the new round is being considered. Clearly, there is still work to be done. A few policy elements need to be addressed, but the main bulk of the operational, practical and even logistical aspects, such as IT-related systems to process the applications, need to be fleshed out.
On 12 June 2022 during ICANN74, the ICANN Board approved the recommendations of the Cross-Community Working Group on New gTLD Auction Proceeds (CCWG-AP). The Board has requested that a preliminary implementation plan and preliminary timeline be delivered within 120 days. Through this action, the Board accepts the ICANN Community's recommendations and looks to the ICANN Organization (Org) to start a new phase of work: design, planning, and implementing an ICANN grant-giving program.
Behind all of this, you have the commitment and hard work of so many members of the community, both past and present, with many different areas of expertise: the SubPro WG co-chairs and Team with GNSO Stakeholder groups and Constituencies and other SO/ACS in the backend, the inputs and comments received throughout the process, the procedural oversight and guidance from the GNSO Council, now the ODP team from ICANN org and soon the Board's consideration. We all know there's quite some expectation from ICANN and the internet community for that new round. Although the progress is steady, it’s important to understand that this is no small undertaking.
Alt-domain names, in particular blockchain-based, have recently been making the headlines. Has this topic entered the discussions at the GNSO?
Yes, we have discussed alt-domain names on several occasions, even beyond the GNSO. The ICANN Community received an update from the ICANN Office of the CTO with a report, which included blockchain-based domain names as well and it has been on the agenda at a number of ICANN meeting sessions.
There is a general recognition that those alt TLDs are, by and large, application-specific. Whereas the internet is meant to be "one", as the ICANN motto goes, i.e. universal and agnostic with regard to application, blockchain domains remain a niche use case limited to a handful of applications or users, at this point at least. They are not intended to be interoperable and sit in separate islands.
On the other hand, alt-domain names have always existed. Technically speaking, everyone can define their own domain name space and even deploy servers that resolve those names with the DNS protocol. The real challenge is not only in creating the system itself but also in having the endorsement of the ecosystem and managing it collectively in a transparent manner i.e. setting up a governance framework in which all stakeholders have a say.
Over two decades, I believe that ICANN has not only maintained and strengthened the endorsement of the technical enabler that is the DNS, but also and primarily its role as an oversight or coordination body using a unique multistakeholder model, both from a technical and policy perspective. If one's ambition is to provide a universal naming system, every stakeholder needs to have a voice in its management. The entities which operate the name servers, those who sell these names, those who use them, the business, the telecoms operators, the governments, civil society, the users, the technical community, etc. If these alternative systems were to become equally universal, they would probably need some oversight that's just as broad and representative as ICANN's - and they would certainly face the same challenges!
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