The plan to create and sell new generic top-level domains should have been a boon for the Internet and a gold mine for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It’s not turning out that way. At nearly every turn, the process has been hamstrung by mistakes and a lack of foresight.
ICANN sells these new domains - the letters that go after the dot in a ULR, like .com or .org - for $185,000 a pop - so you’d think that the agency would be motivated to get the process right. But the interminable delays are making observers wonder who put these people in change of such a big responsibility.
After the first round of applications this Spring, ICANN revealed a total of 1,931 applications for 1,409 gTLDs. Which if all goes well would net ICANN a cool $260.7 million up front and an annual take of $35.2 million in subscription fees.
Only 1,000 gTLDs Per Year
Except there’s one not-insignificant problem: it now turns out that only 1,000 gTLDs can be added to the Internet per year. Which means that (presuming no applications are dropped) 409 gTLD applicants are going to have to wait at least another year to get their domains on the Internet.
And that’s not counting the next wave of GTLDapplications that’s sure to come whenever ICAN gets around to opening up the window again.
The new gTLDs, also known as strings, are part of a program conceptualized by ICANN in 2007 to supplement the existing 22 top-level domains. In January of this year, ICANN opened up the application process to submit new gTLDs, which requires each applicant to specify exactly how and why they plan to use them.
gTLDs are not new: The original seven gTLDs (.com, .net, .org, .int, .gov, .mil and .edu) were established in the 1980s, prior to the Internet moving into general use. As you may know, .int is reserved for international organizations, and .gov, .mil and .edu are restricted to U.S.-based government, military and educational organizations. The remaining three (.com, .org and .net) are regarded as open domains, each managed by a registry organization.
The problem ICANN now has is simple: process limitations prevent any more than 1,000 new gTLDs being added to the root Internet nameservers per year. Not only that, they can’t all be added at the same time.
“This is because the primary challenge with maintaining root zone stability is controlling the rate of change to the root zone system and not the size of the root zone itself, meaning delegation should not occur at a rate of 1,000 delegations on a single day,” ICANN said in a recent statement.
Which means some gTLDs are going to be added at the beginning of the year, and others during the year or at the end of the year. So, who gets to go first?
Some Serious Business - And Some Not So Much
With new domains like .inc, .art, and .book competing with the likes of .sucks, .wtf, and .unicorn, originally ICANN had set up the Digital Archery lottery system to determine the order in which domains would be added to the Internet. But on June 23, ICANN announced the suspension of Digital Archery, citing “[t]he primary reason is that applicants have reported that the timestamp system returns unexpected results depending on circumstances.”
Meaning, yet another technical glitch in a process that already suffered a major snafu when personal contact information for ICANN applicants was initially revealed on the list of applicants back in June.
ICANN Asks For Help
Now ICANN, bereft of a system to assign the order in which new domains will be activated, is asking the public what should be done. The request for community help “seeks input on requirements for an evaluation and delegation process consistent with previous root zone scaling discussions of smooth delegations, adding no more than 1,000 new gTLDs per year.”
Specifically, ICANN is seeking commentary on how to properly meter the release of these domains in a fair and equitable way. Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 19, 2012 (midnight UTC) for consideration.
All of this smacks of a serious lack of planning on the part of ICANN. The organization probably anticipated this many applications, since the Digital Archery system was created to begin with. But to not have a backup process in place for such a critical system seems to verge on incompetence.
The gTLD process has been controversial from the start, with accusations leveled at ICANN for enabling Internet-naming blackmail schemes to force reputable brands to pay big bucks from getting associated with gTLDs such as .xxx, .sucks, and .wtf.
But the continuing errors in process and technology are making a bad situation even worse, and the entire Internet ecosystem will be have to bear the brunt of the damage.
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