New gTLD Round 2 Update – Where are we really at?

Tony Kirsch, Head of Professional Services, GoDaddy Registry
March 30, 2021

The New gTLD Round 2 Program took a significant step recently when ICANN’s policy body, the GNSO Council, unanimously approved the recommendations put forward in the final report from the community led Subsequent Procedures Working Group and sent it to the ICANN Board for approval. 

But what does that really mean? Is it finally time for those interested in applying for a new gTLD to mobilize and get excited? Or should they continue to sit patiently whilst this near decade long process continues?

Here’s an attempt to explain what this really means in ‘non-policy’ speak - and what you should be doing about it if you’re thinking about applying in the second round of New gTLDs.

The Good News

Firstly, a situation such as this where the GNSO Council approves a report unanimously and sends it to the ICANN Board is a very significant step forward as it moves the process all the way to the final decision makers.

Over my 14 years in the industry, I can’t recall the GNSO unanimously approving things this quickly unless they are mission critical or based upon a change of international law. Equally rare would be a situation where something like this would pass through without multiple revisions or iterations. 

Given that this has taken ten years, I think it’s reasonable to say the new gTLD program isn’t mission critical, so I think it’s more likely that this swift approval represents a big tick for the consensus driven content of the Working Group’s report and for their efforts in meeting the needs of the individual constituencies along the way. 

Yes, it’s true that the community driven Subsequent Procedures Working Group took five years to finalize the report. And yes, it’s also true to say that after all that time and hundreds of conference calls, there really wasn’t a huge number of changes that were recommended in the report.  

However, despite being relatively few in number, the proposed changes that were recommended were significant and absolutely needed to overcome some horrible situations and/or delays in the 2012 round.  

For example, included in the new changes is a recommendation that the ICANN Board formally agree to opening up future rounds after this next one, and also a recommendation that whenever the Board approve a round, they must also approve a timeline for the round subsequent. 

Another key change from the report that will impact future applicants includes the formalization of a specific process for .brand TLDs and a long overdue ‘pre-approval’ for backend operators to speed up technical testing and ensure that the review processes can be as quick as possible. 

So, with all of that said, will the ICANN Board look to facilitate a prompt approval to keep the process moving quickly?

The Balancing Argument

It’s important to remember that despite the GNSO’s prompt approval, the Board’s decision to approve the recommendations and open up the program is significantly more complex one. 

Whereas the GNSO was simply agreeing to the policy, the Board needs to firstly consider a range of factors around when the program should go ahead, the price for an application, the suitability of auctions to handle contention in applications, and then consider all of the operational elements and financial allocations that a Board approval will trigger. 

So, what does that mean in reality?

On the assumption that the Board approves the recommendations to open the second round, a number of high-level key elements need to be undertaken, including:

  • Directing the CEO to implement the program – including allocating the necessary resources
  • Generating a new Applicant Guidebook that implements the new recommendations 
  • Updating the baseline Registry Agreement
  • Building the technical systems to support the application process (the Round 1 systems are end of life)
  • Engaging the necessary third-party dispute resolution organizations
  • Building a communications program

Each of these has been done before in some way so it’s reasonable to assume that things should move with some level of speed. But there are many elements to the steps described above and it’s possible this could take 12 months or so to implement.

Did this wake up the naysayers?

Outside of this Board approval process is the ‘hidden’ challenges that exist in this multi-stakeholder community and plagued the first round. 

For those with good memories, you may recall the numerous last-minute delays that happened in the first round that were caused by all sorts of scaremongering and ‘fake news’ campaigns put out by some groups that took years to resolve and dampened the appetites of many possible applicants in the process. Well, these groups still exist, and it will be interesting to see their tactics following this recent announcement.

The ICANN Board will have to make sure they take a strong stance against those with commercial interests that are not aligned with the new gTLD Program from trying to derail the process in order to keep it moving forward.

What’s next?

The ICANN Board will begin to consume the 400-page report over the coming weeks and involve the community as necessary through Public Comment processes. No-one knows when the Board is actually going to approve the report but for future applicants, it seems like now might be a good time to start the internal conversations on the feasibility of a new gTLD for your organization. We’re certainly starting see more folks come to us and asking for our help on that journey over the last few months. 

We generally advise an 18-24 month preparation prior to submitting an application – with the longer times generally recommended for governments, or large international companies with a complex approval process. 

In our next series of blog posts, we’ll outline for you how to kickstart your internal preparations but for now, the second round has moved forward in a major way so it’s exciting to start sharing this with the community.

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