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gTLDs – the end of the beginning

Peter Ollier, Singapore

Icann’s Board of Directors has approved the opening up of the internet’s domain name system to allow new generic top-level domains

The Board passed a resolution to approve the latest version of the Applicant Guidebook this morning by a majority of 13 to one with two abstentions.

The decision will allow the creation of new top-level domains for generic terms such as .music, or .shop, interest groups such as .eco and .green, geographic regions and cities such as .Berlin and .NewYork and brand owners such as .Canon, .Hitachi and .Deloitte.

The Board rejected the advice of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) at a meeting last night to remove a request for trade mark owners to show use in order to take advantage of certain protection mechanisms, including the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS) and to make use of sunrise registration periods.

The question of whether use should be required was the subject of a long and at times bad-tempered discussion between the GAC and Icann's Board on Sunday evening.

Applicants will have around 90 days - from January 12 to April 12 of next year - to apply for the first round new gTLDs. Icann has not yet announced when the second round will take place.

Icann will publish details of who has applied around two weeks after the application period closes and will decide on initial application results in November 2012.

Icann's Board also chose to reject the GAC request to change the standard of evidence needed to take advantage of the URS system from "clear and convincing" to "preponderance of the evidence".

Icann Board members vote in Singapore

Although two key demands of trade mark owners were ignored, Icann did make two minor concessions to the GAC's trade mark-related concerns.

First, the "loser pays" provision that forms part of the URS system will now apply to registrants with 15 registrations, reduced from 26.

Second the Board has introduced specific protection for names belonging to the Red Cross and International Olympic Committee in the form of a temporary block on registering TLDs during the initial application round. This will stay in place until the Generic Names Supporting Organisation and the GAC "develop a policy based on the global public interest".

Rod Beckstrom said at a press conference today that the extension of the deadline will allow for an extended campaign to raise awareness of new gTLDs.

Icann has also come under pressure to do more to help developing countries take part in the system.

Applications will cost $185,000, but Icann is considering a discount of 76% for developing countries. It has also proposed a "seed fund" of $2 million to help applicants that it hopes will be matched by the private sector.

But the inadequacy of the provisions was the main reason given by board member George Sadowsky for his decision to vote against Icann's motion. He also said that it would affect relations between the Board and the GAC.

"We need to launch this programme on the basis of strong and shared agreement. We are not there in my opinion," he said.

Bruce Tonkin abstained, citing a conflict of interest because he is employed by Melbourne IT, which could benefit from the decision to launch new gTLDs.

Mike Silber also abstained, claiming that the fact that the final version of the guidebook was thrashed out at midnight by the Board after its meeting with the GAC, indicated that it was not fully ready.

He added that the motion had been brought before the board today "based on artificial and ego-driven deadlines" - an apparent reference to the desire of Peter Dengate-Thrush, chair of Icann's Board, to get the gTLD programme before his time as chair ends this Friday.

According to the rules of Icann's board, an abstention counts as a no vote.

The vote was described by board member Cherine Chalaby as "the end of the beginning" and comes after a six-year process that has involved seven revisions to the Applicant Guidebook and over 100,000 submissions.

"Every aspect has been examined six ways from Sunday," said Icann Board vice chair Steve Crocker.

"Strap yourself in. There will be a little bit of turbulence along the way, but it will be quite an exciting ride"


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