As regular readers of Anchovy News will know, the process for the launch of new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) has been ongoing since June 2008 when the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gave its approval to the proposal to introduce new gTLDs.
Since then much work has gone into defining the new gTLD application process and the creation of the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) for new gTLDs.
This has led to multiple iterations and publications of the draft version of the AGB with each draft being followed by a public comment period in an effort to reach a consensus position from the ICANN community and to enable the ICANN Board to approve the new gTLD program and open the application window.
This process has been a lengthy one with almost every aspect of the process being scrutinised and debated by the ICANN community from the issue of suitable rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) for trade mark holders to the thorny question of Vertical Integration and registry/registrar separation.
As reported in the June issue of Anchovy News the ICANN Board approved the May 2011 version of the AGB and the launch of the new gTLD program during the June 2011 ICANN meeting in Singapore. According to the new definitive timeline as published by ICANN, the application window is scheduled to open on 12 January 2012 and close on 12 April 2012.
This was despite the serious criticism levelled at ICANN by the world's governments aimed at delaying the imminent approval of the new gTLD program and the AGB and recommending further consultation with the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC).
Indeed prior to the June 2011 ICANN Board decision, a statement was issued by the GAC which explicitly stated that the GAC felt that ICANN had not sufficiently addressed their concerns over controversial string objections, trademark protection and vertical integration.
As part of the ICANN Board's June decision to push ahead with the launch of the new gTLD program was the caveat that the AGB would be amended subject to further consultations with the GAC and input from the stakeholder community.
Based upon ICANN's proposed timeline with the application window opening on 12 January 2012, the publication of an amended and final version of the AGB was anticipated at some point over the summer. However, July and August went by without any hint of the publication of the eighth iteration of the AGB. This led some observers to speculate that the next version of the AGB was likely to contain some substantial revisions to the May 2011 version of the AGB.
Thus following the publication of the latest AGB on 19 September there was intense scrutiny by prospective new gTLD applicants and critics alike of the eighth iteration of this hotly debated document.
Unfortunately the September 2011 version of the AGB did not seem to contain much in the way of significant change and thus the significant questions raised by the GAC remain.
Likewise, any prospective new gTLD applicants looking for more certainty in the new gTLD program will also be left scratching their heads at the incomplete nature of the AGB and the unanswered questions still hanging over the program.
In addition to the push back from the GAC, in particular the US and the European Union, the pressure from other quarters has also begun to build on ICANN to delay the launch of new gTLDs along with the threat of legal action should ICANN not comply.
The opening salvo came at the beginning of August from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which is an organisation based in the US that represents the marketing and advertising community. In a letter to ICANN, the CEO of the ANA, Mr Bob Liodice, raised his concerns regarding the issue of cost to brand owners to protect their trade marks and intellectual property in the new gTLDs and demanded that the new gTLD program be suspended.
In addition to this the ANA also criticised ICANN for not demonstrating the economic need for the new gTLD program and disputed that the new gTLD program would bring any substantial benefits to the community as a whole.
The letter from the ANA was also copied to members of US Congress, the US Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Adminstration (NTIA). In a follow up interview, Liodice made it clear that the ANA were exploring their options in the event that they felt that legal action was required to achieve the ANA's goal of suspending the new gTLD program.
ICANN's CEO, Rod Beckstrom, issued a robust response to the criticisms made by the ANA and suggested that the ANA had not only misunderstood several key points of the new gTLD program, but had also misrepresented the ICANN consensus driven, bottom-up policy process. The message from ICANN to the ANA is that the new gTLD program will launch and that ICANN will not halt this in deference to the "specific interests of any particular group".
However, the criticism from the ANA was merely the tip of the iceberg as ICANN came in for criticism from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a large organisation with an international presence. Taking up the baton from the ANA, the IAB also called on ICANN to suspend the new gTLD program on the basis that it will place an undue financial burden on brand owners to protect their intellectual property and that the introduction of new gTLDs "is likely to cause irreparable harm and damage to its membership and the Internet business community in general".
This was swiftly followed up with statements from the Association of American Advertising Agencies, the UK based Direct Marketing Association and the World Federation of Advertisers all calling on ICANN to abandon the new gTLD program.
How these criticisms will resonate with ICANN and impact the new gTLD program isn't certain. Based on ICANN's response to the ANA it is clear that ICANN intends to push forward with the launch of new gTLDs in January 2012.
However, the threat of legal action, the potential for further intervention from US Congress and the renewal of the IANA contract could all conspire to seriously impact on the launch of new gTLDs and to cause ICANN to reconsider in the months to come.