ICANN has posted a “tentative roadmap” for the future direction of the new gTLD program. It is available at http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/announcements-and-media/announcement-17aug12-en .
This August 17th notice explains that, now that pre-evaluation “batching” has been ruled out, the technical limit of adding a maximum of 1,000 domains per year will require the selection of a pre-delegation “metering” process. The notice provides six separate examples of potential metering techniques but goes on to state that no decision has yet been made, adding:
Proposed solutions for Metering are being considered in coordination with the ICANN community. Solutions will take some time to implement, and the timeline is ultimately dependent on developmental work as well as the consultation process…at this stage it is only possible to provide a tentative roadmap for the processing of new gTLD applications. If community support emerges for a single Metering solution, the Board might be able to approve an approach after a single round of public comment. Otherwise, an additional round of community consultation might be necessary to develop community consensus.
The notice includes a detailed but nonetheless tentative schedule. This tentative schedule projects that Initial Evaluation results of all new gTLD applications will be published in June 2013 and that the first delegation request will take place two months later, in August. Given the various activities that new registries will need to engage in prior to opening registrations to the general public, the first such registrations will likely occur as previously projected by ICANN in early 2014.
The notice holds out some hope that the process can be accelerated, stating:
The current Evaluation phase is estimated at eleven months. This has been significantly accelerated from previously posted timelines. Additional acceleration is being sought and will be reported if and when new timelines are agreed.
However, the notice also indicates that both the schedule and the ultimate choice of metering solution could be negatively affected if the community is unable to quickly coalesce around a consensus approach to metering:
A solution for the Metering technique must be implemented before the end of the Evaluation phase on May 15, 2013. There is, therefore, some "slack" in the schedule, but it would be preferable not to wait until the last moment, as some solutions may take longer than others to implement and may no longer be viable as time passes.
While not mentioned in the notice, only those applications for new gTLD “strings” that face no issues will be added to the root at the beginning of the delegation phase. So, for example, applications for strings that attract GAC warnings or objections, that are subject to other types of objections, that face string similarity evaluations, or that have been applied for by multiple applicants and may be headed to auction, will face additional delays and would be delegated to the root later in 2014 or even 2015 or beyond.
There is also the possibility that controversial subjects may be reopened and subject to extensive debate. For example, Melbourne IT has just proposed extensive policy changes to the two required Rights Protection Mechanisms – the Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rapid Suspension – in regard to so-called High At-Risk Trademarks. If these divisive subjects are reopened that could well delay the launch of the first new gTLDs for an indeterminate period. (See http://www.melbourneit.info/news-centre/Releases/Melbourne-IT-Urges-ICANN-to-Consider-Stricter-Protections-to-Minimize-Consumer-and-Business-Harm-in-new-gTLDs)
Finally, litigation retarding particular strings or the entire new gTLD program could also be filed and add to delay. Last week’s U.S. District Court ruling in California reaffirming that ICANN is subject to the antitrust laws, particularly in regard to defensive registrations, could well be cited by a potential litigant.
Summing up, all that can be said with certainty about the schedule for new gTLDs is that ICANN has provided a roadmap subject to revision, and is seeking to expedite matters while gathering community input on a consensus metering mechanism – but that the actual schedule remains uncertain and subject to a variety of factors that are beyond ICANN’s control.