Recently here on the CADNA blog, we overviewed the changes that ICANN made to the latest version of the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook. The changes, for the most part, were not major. For brand owners still attempting to devise a plan for dealing with new gTLDs, this most recent round of changes will have almost no impact on their decisions.
This is unfortunate, because through our discussions with members and other companies, we see that there is significant room for improvement to certain policies in the Guidebook.
The point that gives us the most concern is that, despite estimates that hundreds of new gTLD applicants will be brand owners, ICANN has made no distinction between these corporate applicants and other gTLD applicants. Given that many corporate applicants will be applying for closed registries, in contrast to most other standard or community-based applicants, there is a case to be made for ICANN creating a new category of corporate applications. ICANN could establish a set of universally recognized criteria that applicants must fulfill in order to qualify as corporate applicants, such as annual revenue, debt and profit ratios, net worth and others.
Once it establishes this new category of applicants, ICANN could begin to reconsider some of the application requirements for businesses. As the Guidebook is currently written, a new gTLD applicant that is a publicly traded company can forgo certain background checks. The idea is, if the company is listed on the world’s 25 biggest stock exchanges, it has already been properly vetted and ICANN does not need to go back and perform a task that has already been done. So ICANN should not have a problem with exempting corporate applicants from disclosing personal information, including the home addresses, of their Board members and Chief Officers. This highly sensitive information has already been provided in past checks, and could mean a serious threat to security if accidentally leaked or otherwise compromised.
Another provision that ICANN could alter for corporate applicants is its requirement that applicants demonstrate a Continued Operations Instrument (COI) via either a letter of credit or a cash deposit into escrow of $375,000, or the equivalent of what it would take to keep the gTLD registry operating for three years. ICANN should permit corporate applicants to demonstrate their COI through both a letter of credit and a cash deposit into escrow if they so choose, in order to lessen the burden on those businesses.
These are just a few areas where ICANN could make a few changes to make the policies surrounding the New gTLD Program less detrimental to brand owners. Of course, the biggest thing ICANN could do to relieve the stress placed on businesses is to determine when it will open up a second application round, or at the very least, when it will initiate a policy development process to decide when to do so. This would go miles in alleviating the anxiety plaguing many businesses, who feel forced into applying for a new gTLD simply to not be left behind.