What Does “Demand” Mean to You?

Josh Bourne ⬥ 17 February

At the ICANN meeting in Seoul, the ICANN board decided to push back the roll out of new gTLDs to at least after the second quarter of this year.  A few weeks later, ICANN opened up a public comment period soliciting feedback on the possibility of creating a type of pre-application program where parties could express their interest in applying for new gTLDs.  In December the Corporation released a draft model for the “Expression of Interest” (EOI), the proposed gTLD pre-registration period, and accepted comments on the draft through the end of January.  As proposed, the EOI requires interested parties to indicate their intentions to apply for new gTLDs and pay a fee of $55,000. Additionally, only those parties who participate in the EOI will be eligible to officially apply for new gTLDs in the first round.

According to ICANN, the motivating factor behind developing the EOI program is to measure demand for new gTLDs.  But there’s one big problem – because participation in the EOI is required in order to apply in the first round of gTLDs, the demand measured by the EOI will be artificially inflated by those parties who are unsure of whether or not they really want a new gTLD but don’t want to be locked out of the first round just in case.  (There is a whole host of other problems with the EOI as well, including the fact that it would be introduced before the gTLD Applicant Guidebook is even close to being finished.)

Another problem is the “demand” ICANN and others refer to is confusing.  Any EOI results would not signal Internet user demand, but demand among groups that are seeking to possess top level domains either for private use (a company’s .BRAND) or to sell domain names to the public (a gTLD entrepreneur of any kind that wants to sell sunrise and live registrations to businesses and the general public). If an intended purpose of introducing new gTLDs is to offer the public more choices, isn’t the public’s demand for those choices the real “demand” that ICANN should be measuring?

I was reminded of this issue when I received a periodic newsletter from one of the corporate-facing domain registrars.  The newsletter mentioned the EOI as a means of measuring “demand for new gTLDs.”  First off, as I just said, it clearly is not an effectual means of measuring meaningful demand. But as I read it, I started thinking about how much it behooves domain registration companies, as well as ICANN, to say that the EOI is measuring demand.  If the so-called “demand” is high enough (and who will determine if it’s high enough?  That’s right, ICANN), then ICANN will be justified in pushing forward with the rollout of new gTLDs without determining if Internet users really want them. 

Tags: EOI, Expression of Interest, gTLD Applicant Guidebook, gTLDs, ICANN, Internet user demand, Internet users, public comment, public’s demand, Seoul

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