ICANN 63 Convenes in Barcelona & Focus Shifts to Next Round of New gTLDs

By Emily Johns

In October, ICANN and its community convened for their third and final public meeting of the year in Barcelona, Spain. The meeting, typically the largest of the year, had nearly 2,400 attendees and included the bi-annual High-Level Government Meeting, which itself included government representatives from 124 different countries.  The meeting focused largely on preparations for the next round of new gTLD applications and the work being done around the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data and the requisite Expedited Policy Development Process, as well as various WHOIS access discussions.

Below, please find our key takeaways from the week:

Upcoming Second Round of New gTLD Applications

The week in Barcelona marked a notable shift in the community’s attitude towards the upcoming second round of new gTLD applications. While past meetings have treated a second round of applications as a largely abstract concept, ICANN 63 displayed a notable shift in the community’s attitude as many of the key policy development processes begin to wrap up. Notably, the Subsequent Procedures for New gTLDs Policy Development Process published its Initial Report on Work Track 5 (geographic names) earlier this month, with the Final Report coming as early as Q3 2019.

As such, many in the community have shifted their focus to starting the required implementation procedures for the next round, in order to ensure that it is not delayed any further. Sessions in Barcelona focused on ensuring that the necessary policy development processes stay on track, with significant progress coming from the Subsequent Procedures and the Rights Protection Mechanisms Working Groups, both of which will have a significant impact on the future of new gTLD policy and the shape of the next round.

Additionally, many registries made public statements during ICANN 63 advocating for an expedited second round. This comes as new gTLD operators have worked to showcase the innovations in the new gTLD space through a High-Interest session and other outreach efforts. Specifically, the session at ICANN  featured a panel of speakers from prominent companies in the space, who spoke to how they have used their TLDs for marketing efforts, blockchain engagements, encryption services, and more.

Given the events in Barcelona and the attitude of the community, we can reasonably expect the second round of new gTLD applications to open in late 2020 or 2021. Based on that timing, brands will need to begin thinking about planning for any potential gTLD applications for a round two as early as late 2019.

Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data and the Expedited Policy Development Process

On May 25th of this year, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became enforceable and, after months of struggling to develop a workable model to replace the existing WHOIS requirements within its registry and registrar contracts, the ICANN Board approved the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data (“Temporary Specification”). In an effort to craft permanent policy around the Temporary Specification that will remain in effect after its expiration, Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), ICANN’s sole policy-making arm, launched an Expedited Policy Development Process (EPDP) to develop the permanent policy recommendations around gTLD registration data collection, processing, and access. Upon completion of the policy process, the new registration data requirements will allow for a form of WHOIS to continue to exist in the long-term despite GDPR and other relevant privacy regulations.

During ICANN 63 in Barcelona, the EPDP Team was lauded as an example of the successes of the mutli-stakeholder model and complimented for the hard work they are putting in to meet the fast-approaching deadline. That said, the EPDP team has significantly delayed its timeline. The team finally published their Initial Report on November 21st, which will be followed by a shortened public comment period of only 30 days in an effort to make up for lost time. The published report, while far from complete, does indicate a push from the group to further restrict what WHOIS information is collected to begin with.

Following the public comment period, the EPDP team is expected to move on to access discussions before submitting their final recommendations and report to the ICANN Board for approval. However, given the rate at which the group has been working, it is unlikely that they will deal with access topics any time soon. Instead, we expect the discussion to continue to focus on the subjects included in the Initial Report, and for progress to continue to be slow moving.

Third Party Access to WHOIS

Despite the EPDP team’s insistence that it will not field access questions yet, there were many conversations in the community around third-party access to redacted WHOIS information throughout the week in Barcelona. While some of the conversations stayed around the EPDP’s role in crafting an access model, one new idea, referred to as the Hub and Spoke Model, attracted a lot of interest within the community. Under this model, ICANN would act sole controller of registration data, as well as the sole arbiter of access to said data. This would centralize the WHOIS protocol, something that is not typically done in ICANN.

The model is appealing to the community because it would lift significant liability from the contracted parties, placing it instead with ICANN who says it is willing to take on that risk and responsibility. All in the community seemed receptive to this idea, and many urged ICANN to act on it quickly. However, these ideas are still very much in the discussion phase, and we do not expect to see a resolution on the issue for the next year or so.

Looking Ahead

While many of the issues discussed during the week in Barcelona remain unresolved, FairWinds expects many of them to wrap up soon, and for 2019 to be a very busy world for the ICANN community. In the next few months, we expect the following:

  • EPDP – Significant progress as the team nears its May 24th deadline, along with a Final Report of recommendations to replace the Temporary Specification.
  • Subsequent Procedures for New gTLDs – Significant progress, as all of the initial reports have been published and will be combined into the group’s final recommendations and report by Q3 2019

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