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ICANN gTLD Program Continues to Move Ahead; First Round Application Window Now Closed

The start of April brought with it the close of the application window in the first round of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) process for approving new generic Top Level Domains (gTLD). Since the opening of the window for new gTLDs in January, ICANN, which oversees the global domain name system, has received applications for new gTLDs from nearly 900 entities, all of whom may apply for up to 50 new strings (i.e. ".anything"). It also marked the completion of a tri-annual ICANN meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, which produced some notable news and even more questions.

The top story in Costa Rica was a surprise Department of Commerce announcement that a pending request for proposal to renew a key contract between Commerce and ICANN that provides ICANN much of its authority to control the domain name system, had been cancelled. Instead, the current contract was extended six months. With no additional information provided, there was significant speculation as to the cause of the cancellation, which included questions about the future leadership of ICANN (current President Rod Beckstrom is stepping down in June) and ongoing concerns related to conflicts of interest within the ICANN Board that ICANN took the first steps to address at the meeting.

Another significant issue was ICANN's anticipated need to process the applications it has received in batches. ICANN has the capacity to handle only 500 applications at a time, and is currently trying to resolve how it will decide which applications will be handled first without running afoul of any California laws, where ICANN is headquartered. Included in the discussion on how to resolve the issue was a suggestion by the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO), of which MPA is a member, that ICANN consider a "Do Not Sell List." Anticipating that many of the entities that have filed for new gTLDs have done so "defensively," the Do Not Sell list would allow entities, for a nominal fee, to put their desired string on a list that would essentially hold a spot for that gTLD, without having to go through the formal application process. In the event a future applicant wanted to apply for a gTLD on the list, a process to resolve the matter would be followed. CRIDO believes that providing a place for new domains to be held, would allow many of those who have filed for new gTLDs to withdraw their application and place their name on the list, reducing the need for ICANN to batch applications.

The meeting concluded with many of these questions, and others, such as particulars about a second application window ICANN has committed to pursue, unanswered. It's anticipated that there should be more clarity on some of these issues by April 30th, when the applicants for new gTLDs and the domains they have applied for, are revealed to the public.