April 13, 2012: When the Real Fun Begins

FairWinds Partners —  February 29, 2012

The new gTLD application deadline is approaching fast, with just about six weeks left to submit. From our work at FairWinds, we know that many companies are working to finalize their applications, and some are even just getting started now. But everyone, regardless of when they got started, is hurtling toward the April 12 finish line.

Except it’s not really a finish line. While April 12, 2012 may be the deadline to submit your new gTLD application, it’s really more like the kickoff of your company’s new role as a gTLD registry operator. First comes the evaluation, of course, which could present certain obstacles, depending on the nature of your company’s new gTLD plans and how you answered the application questions. But that’s a topic for another post.

The topic of today’s post is ongoing registry responsibilities. Owning a new gTLD does not just mean that your company will now have access to a completely proprietary, entirely brand-able naming system. It means you will also have to meet certain expectations that ICANN has laid out for the lifetime of your registry (the standard is ten years, although the contract can be terminated with 180 days notice at any time, for any reason). ICANN actually lists all those responsibilities in the Applicant Guidebook in Section 5.4.1, aptly titled, “What is Expected of a Registry Operator.” (To the non-technical reader, the list can seem daunting, so we suggest you finish reading this post before referring to the Guidebook.)

Companies can breathe easily on some of these responsibilities, because, for the most part, they will have selected registry infrastructure providers to handle many of the technical tasks. These include things like operating the gTLD in a stable and secure manner, regularly depositing data into escrow (refer to our “Down with Data” post), and implementing Domain Name System Security Extensions, or DNSSEC.

But there are other responsibilities that will fall squarely on the shoulders of companies, as new gTLD registry operators. These include things like complying with consensus policies and temporary policies that have already been established, as well as those that will come up through ICANN’s policy development process in the future. In other words, once ICANN christens your company as a new registry, you will have to play by ICANN’s rules. In order to do this, it will help to have someone who stays up to date with all new and existing ICANN policies, and can advise your company on how to comply with them. Fortunately, you can outsource this role to a third-party provider or consultant.

Complying with all those policies might seem like a drag, but there is an upside: as a new gTLD registry operator, you actually get to help create new consensus policies. All registries can participate in the Registry Stakeholder Group of ICANN’s policy-making body, the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO). There, they can impact how new policies get initiated and developed.

Like Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” But sometimes, with great responsibility comes great power.