ALAC Response to the Proposed sTLD RFP and
Suggested Principles for New TLD
The At Large Advisory Committee welcomes the opportunity to provide comments on ICANN's proposed "Establishment of new sTLDs: Request for Proposals."
As we have previously indicated,
ALAC supports an expansion of the gTLD namespace that allows both sponsored and unsponsored
names. We understand that the current proposed RFP limited to sponsored
TLDs, is suggested as a continuation of the "Proof of Concept" testbed.
First, therefore, we offer suggestions for making this limited expansion
more equitable. We further urge ICANN to move quickly beyond "testing" to
more open addition of a full range of new gTLDs in the near future, and
offer some general principles to guide that expansion.
The proposed sTLD RFP is not an equitable way to address even its limited
goals. It errs in unduly restricting the class of potential applicants and
in imposing substantial fees for re-submission.
Anyone Should Be Eligible to Apply for a New TLD in the Upcoming Round.
The proposed sTLD RFP calls for "revised applications" only from
unsuccessful applicants for sponsored TLDs from the Fall 2000 round. This
limitation of the applicant pool is unfair -- both to those who might wish
to submit new proposals and even to those who participated in the ICANN
process in 2000 by submitting applications for unsponsored TLDs. Moreover,
limitation of the applicant pool to a narrow class of prior applicants is
unrelated to any reasonable objective.
Restricting eligible new TLD proposals to year 2000 applicants submitting
proposals closely following their old applications mandates ignorance.
ICANN would be ignoring the economic development of the past three years,
and would be forcing applicants to ignore the collective experience of the
Internet community in the past three years, willfully blind to ignore
today's market environment. TLD proposals that may have looked promising
during the dot-com boom may look uninteresting now; while new ideas for TLD
proposals may have arisen since then. ICANN's restrictive proposed RFP
would deprive the community of the opportunity to hear new, innovative, and
viable sTLD proposals suitable for the post-.com Internet. It would be
little surprise if this outdated "test" failed.
Instead, several characteristics of the new TLD program in 2000 make it
appropriate to expand current consideration beyond the applications (and a
mere subset of those) for the "proof-of-concept" then:
Although Fall 2000 new TLD applicants were asked to classify their
proposals as "sponsored" or "unsponsored," and to submit additional
materials if choosing "sponsored," the distinction did not carry nearly so
much weight then as it is now being made to bear. Sponsorship was merely
one of several characteristics among which applicants could choose. Clearly
applicants could not have known that they were foreclosing themselves from
later consideration by choosing "unsponsored" in 2000.
Nothing in the criteria announced in August 2000, prior to submission of
applications, indicated that sponsored TLDs would be given any special
priority, such that applicants would be encouraged to choose sponsored over
unsponsored where either type of operation would fit their needs. "The
evaluation of delegation of policy-formulation functions for special-purpose
TLDs to appropriate organizations" was only the seventh of nine criteria for
Further, ICANN's evaluation of the 2000 new TLD proposals did not
distinguish between sponsored and unsponsored as a major category in its
report, instead looking at general/specific purpose, restricted/unrestricted
use, and new services. The report suggests that even after reviewing all
applications submitted in 2000, the evaluators did not believe the
distinction was significant. <http://www.icann.org/tlds/report/>
Finally, nothing in the lead-up to the 2003 process has ever indicated
that preference would be given to past applicants for sponsored TLDs. This
decision frustrates those who expected to be able to apply for future TLDs
even if they had not previously applied or planned to change the nature of a
previous application based on interim experience.
A likely effect of limiting the pool of possible applicants in the
proposed RFP would be to create a secondary market for failed sTLD
applications, without improving the quality of those in this round.
ICANN is presumably continuing the "proof-of-concept" because it believes it
is learning something from the testbed process, yet limiting applications to
a narrow selection of those unsuccessful three years ago deprives the
Internet community of a meaningful chance to use the experience of those
years. Moreover, at the slow pace of ICANN's new TLD roll-out, missing the
opportunity to apply in the continuing "proof-of-concept" phase imposes a
significant hardship on would-be sponsors. If ICANN is committed to making
the testbed a representative evaluation of new TLD policies, it must open
the application process to all who fit its substantive criteria.
High Application Fees Discourage Non-Profit and Less-Established Applicants.
The proposed sTLD RFP would require applicants to pay $25,000 along with
their revised applications, on top of the $50,000 they paid for
consideration in the first round. While we understand that it may be costly
to review application proposals, a lower fee would suffice to discourage
frivolous applications, while the high one also deters bottom-up and
low-cost organization of legitimate non-commercial proposals.
In the current plan, accepting only revisions to existing applications, the
high fee seems particularly disproportionate to the likely additional review
needed. Yet even if ICANN opens up the process to all applicants, as we
recommend, it should ask only fees sufficient to compensate for evaluation
of the proposal, an easier task if the application conditions themselves are
minimal. ICANN can streamline and reduce the cost of its approval process
by approving applications conditionally, provided they continue to meet
implementation benchmarks (e.g., you must go live by one year from now, and
before going live you need to show us an escrow contract, a technical
architecture plan, etc.) as their operators move forward. Incidentally, a
conditional approval reduces the front-loading of costs for the applicant as
well, enabling smaller businesses to participate more easily.
We reiterate our recommendation to ask lower fees from non-profits, and to
consider taking a portion of the fee only from the winning applicant, rather
than making all applicants subsidize the later negotiation and
implementation costs of the eventual winner.
It is time for ICANN to regularize the process of examination and approval
of new TLD proposals. Testbeds are fine, but after 5 years of operation,
ICANN needs to move beyond evaluations to permit those proposing new TLDs to
put their plans into effect.
Approving a few new sponsored TLDs chosen from a list of applicants that was
narrowed arbitrarily cannot replace the creation of a quick, effective and
uncontroversial process for the creation of any kind and number of new TLDs.
ICANN must focus and act swiftly with respect to this issue, which can be
called the holy grail of ICANN's mission.
Further, ICANN must make more meaningful evaluations when it does conduct
reviews. In presentations heard at the Rio di Janiero meeting, ICANN Paper, and , on existing sponsored TLDs, both err in focusing primarily on exclusion:
Do the sponsored gTLDs represent a limited community and adhere to their
charters by permitting registrants only from within that community? The
question more important to the public's communicative goals, however, is the
flip side: Are there people or organizations who are left without logical
places to register domain names, or who are denied registration in a
sponsored TLD whose charter they fit? That is, are communities of
prospective registrants most effectively served by a single TLD, operated by
a sponsor that purports to represent them, or by multiple commercial players
that perceive them as a market for registrations in a number of competing
top level domains?
It is easy to make the error rate arbitrarily low by asking questions that
examine only one kind of error -- gTLDs could block all cybersquatters
simply by refusing any registrations, but that would hardly serve the point
of adding new gTLDs.
Competition. Prospective registrants of a domain name in a gTLD should
have a choice -- between competing TLD strings, between competing policies,
between competing business models. ICANN should foster, not impede
competition among different registries that access identical or overlapping
market segments. Mutual substitutability of different gTLDs fosters
Fairness and objectivity. The processes used by ICANN in allocating new
gTLDs to registries must be well-documented at the outset, fair, and
predictable. Criteria must be applied in an objective and non-arbitrary
fashion, and without undue influence from policy-making bodies or advocacy
groups on any side of the issues.
Market operation. An open, competitive market, not a beauty contest,
should determine what names get into the root. The only standard applied to
new Top Level Domains should be a simple no-harm evaluation which avoids
confusingly similar TLD strings, according to some well-defined standard
such as that of consumer confusion in trademark law.
Rapid resolution of conflicts among applicants. When multiple parties
propose the same domain string, ICANN needs a mechanical way of resolving
Technical evaluation / accreditation. ICANN's past practice of substantive
and technical evaluation is both costly and inefficient. Even after passing
these a priori evaluations, the .pro TLD has yet to become operational.
ICANN should consider paring this requirement down to a minimum
"competence," perhaps leaving open the possibility of terminating gTLD
contracts with registries that failed to achieve minimum performance
standards within a reasonable time.
Business continuity. Once a contract is approved, ICANN should ask for
data escrow and/or business continuity insurance to reduce the risk of
registry failure, but should not try to guarantee that a registry or TLD
string will live forever. Customers can include risk evaluation in their
choice of TLDs to use; ICANN need not make this a criterion of approving an
Geographical and linguistic diversity. As an international organization,
ICANN should ultimately work to allow applications in major non-English
languages, and should encourage a wider geographical distribution of TLD