Editorial : ICANN and the future of the new gTLDs

Welcome to the March Editorial.

Uniregistry’s announcement of a price increase plan, affecting 16 of its 25 commercial gTLDs, created a wave of discussions on a variety of media.

The key question was the price increase, and whether it’s ethical, or merely a demonstration of corporate greed.

The affected gTLDs are, for the most part, commercial extensions that are used by business operators in a variety of industries.

Such gTLDs were, without doubt, priced substantially lower at launch time, than they should have been.  Some of them are now becoming the first choice of the Uniregistry price increase, while 10 gTLDs remained unchanged.

A lot of the complaints arising from these price increases, seem to skirt the actual numbers and focus on the lack of a price cap, set explicitly in the ICANN/Registry agreement. That, is a valid point, and whether it can be addressed with ICANN’s bureaucrats that are gathering in Copenhagen for ICANN58, is debatable.

The affected gTLDs by Uniregistry are, in our opinion, considerably less popular with investors, and more related to businesses willing to pay increased fees in order to use the SEO-friendly extensions. However, a lot of this debate would have been avoided if the existing domains were grandfathered without any implications for their existing registrants.

Regarding speculations of a domino effect, a variety of Registries (Club / Donuts / Radix / Rightside) stepped in and shared their commitment to their current pricing model, with the understanding that any future price increases would not be introducing such a “shock factor.” Naturally, the more gTLDs a Registry operates, the more in control it needs to be of extended finances.

Despite these assurances, a lot of the white noise in the discussions was created by individuals that invested no money in new gTLDs; it was an obvious opportunity to talk down and attempt to discredit the overall new gTLD concept, which has generated 28 million domain registrations in 3 years, and expanded the domain industry’s footprint multi-fold, as successful industry events like NamesCon demonstrate.

ICANN has processes in place, that protect existing gTLD owners, with the commitment of their operators for at least 5 years; even in the event of a catastrophic, unpredictable circumstance that led to the closure of a Registry entirely, provisions in place (and bonds) extend such support for 3 years. For worthy gTLDs, this time frame would be sufficient for a new operator to take over.

3.              Registry Continuity

3.1.         High Availability.  Registry Operator will conduct its operations using network and geographically diverse, redundant servers (including network-level redundancy, end-node level redundancy and the implementation of a load balancing scheme where applicable) to ensure continued operation in the case of technical failure (widespread or local), or an extraordinary occurrence or circumstance beyond the control of the Registry Operator.  Registry Operator’s emergency operations department shall be available at all times to respond to extraordinary occurrences.

3.2.         Extraordinary Event.  Registry Operator will use commercially reasonable efforts to restore the critical functions of the registry within twenty-four (24) hours after the termination of an extraordinary event beyond the control of the Registry Operator and restore full system functionality within a maximum of forty-eight (48) hours following such event, depending on the type of critical function involved.  Outages due to such an event will not be considered a lack of service availability.

3.3.         Business Continuity.  Registry Operator shall maintain a business continuity plan, which will provide for the maintenance of Registry Services in the event of an extraordinary event beyond the control of the Registry Operator or business failure of Registry Operator, and may include the designation of a Registry Services continuity provider.  If such plan includes the designation of a Registry Services continuity provider, Registry Operator shall provide the name and contact information for such Registry Services continuity provider to ICANN.  In the case of an extraordinary event beyond the control of the Registry Operator where the Registry Operator cannot be contacted, Registry Operator consents that ICANN may contact the designated Registry Services continuity provider, if one exists.  Registry Operator shall conduct Registry Services Continuity testing at least once per year.

The bottom line is that the new gTLD program is irreversible, and here to stay.

ICANN spent millions – and generated millions – to establish a system that expands the Internet namespace in a multitude of ways. There is no doubt, that some existing processes will need to be improved urgently to correct uncertainties and address concerns.

At the same time, Registries must expand and coordinate their marketing efforts to educate and inform domain investors, and the general public, about the many benefits of new gTLDs, in order to sustain their current business model.

In particular, outreach to the end-user consumers should become a big part of a Registry’s marketing budget, and ICANN should fund, in our opinion, a part of it.

No industry survives on fans alone, one needs customers that make use of products and services.

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