Brad White: First of all, Christine Willett, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.
Christine Willett: Absolutely! My pleasure.
Brad White: Most obvious question first. What's your best guess as to when we will see the first new gTLDs online?
Christine Willett: You know, I honestly think we will see have the first new gTLD launched in production by the end of this calendar year (2013).
Brad White: Initial evaluations have now closed. What happens between this point, the point where we were at now and when we see the new gTLDs on our web browsers?
Christine Willett: These applicants that passed initial evaluation, they're being invited into contracting. As you know, we've signed the first several registry agreement and at we are inviting more applicants into contracting based in priority order and once they have successfully … once they sign a registry agreement, they are able to move into pre-delegation testing and we've also have had our first four applicants approved through pre-delegation testing successfully, and after that then they will get all the paperwork and documentation they need to take to the IANA department to seek delegation into the root.
Brad White: For the uninitiated, what exactly is delegation?
Christine Willett: So delegation is when the IANA Department updates the root zone file and puts that new gTLD into the root and makes visible to the users of the internet.
Brad White: Pretty much the last step?
Christine Willett: Exactly!
Brad White: ICANN has finished those initial evaluations but they're still about two dozen, I think 29 when I last checked applications that have not yet gone through what's the status of those applications?
Christine Willett: So those applications have a variety of holdups. Mostly, it's change requests. A lot of late breaking change requests were submitted by those applicants that have held up our ability to publish the initial evaluation results but the evaluation work is, by and large, done.
Brad White: One of the largest discussions in the ICANN community is the contradiction or apparent confusion in string similarity decisions. Talk to me about that.
Christine Willett: So string similarity. we first, as part of initial evaluation, had the string similarity panel that reviewed all of the applied for strings and to assess whether they were similar to either an existing TLD, reserved word, as well as to one another existing and applied for strings. And that work yield 232 contention sets and we publish those contention sets identifying which strings were in contention or confusingly similar to one another. We also … the program called for the ability for applicants or operator's existing TLDs to submit objections on the basis of string similarity. So … the objection would be to say that this applied for string is confusingly similar to an existing TLD or to the TLD that I've applied for. And the basis for those evaluations is confusability for both of them. The panel work was strictly visual similarity.
Brad White: What exactly do you mean by visual similarity?
Christine Willett: So literally, does the string when I look at it … could I possibly be confused but I think … reading one string and see another.
Brad White: Okay.
Christine Willett: The objections are being reviewed by expert panels. Our dispute resolution provider has identified experts to review and come to determinations about the result, the objection and filings, an opinion of the objector, as well as the opinion of the applicant.
Brad White: In some of those decisions, some have been contradictory, at least for the lay person they appear to be, what about that?
Christine Willett: We find it as with almost any legal proceeding, although it's not a court of law, it's an analogous situation. Sometimes you have different points of view, different people have a different opinion, and if you ask five people what's confusing, they might come up with five different opinions. So it's sort of built into the nature of the objection … objection expert determination.
Brad White: Are these decisions final or is there some sort of appellate process built into the system?
Christine Willett: So there isn't an appellate or appeal process per se. I will tell you that we are working … staff is working diligently with the dispute resolution service providers to ensure that all the procedures have been followed and to look at the expert determinations and we're looking at these … these consistency issues. We certainly have … ICANN as a whole has accountability mechanisms that anyone in the program or the community could utilize to, if they don't feel that there … the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction that includes the Ombudsman, who generally looks at issues of fairness. We have the reconsideration request about policy and the process being followed and then ultimately, we have the independent review panel.
Brad White: Now that the first new gTLDs are close to delegation, there's a lot of emphasis about the rights protection mechanisms particularly the Trademark Clearinghouse. If I have a mark and … I have a trademark, and I want to protect it but I've not been an applicant what do I need to know at this point?
Christine Willett: So as a trademark holder, you can do one or two things. You can go directly to the Trademark Clearinghouse and register your trademark yourself into the Trademark Clearinghouse or you can engage an agent to do that on your behalf and register all of your trademarks or any trademarks you are interested in protecting through the new gTLD program in the Trademark Clearinghouse.
Brad White: It prevents someone from using it at the second level?
Christine Willett: Corrected. So it’s at the second level when you get the opportunity in the sunrise period to register those names or the variance of your registered trademarks in a new gTLD. So you get to the opportunity to register that domain name at the second level.
Brad White: The Trademark Clearinghouse has two services: the sunrise service and the claims service. Can you differentiate between those?
Christine Willett: Sure. So even if you haven't registered your name in … at the second level in a new gTLD but you have your trademark registered in the TMCH, by virtue of the claims period, you will be notified when someone attempts to register a second-level domain using your registered trademark or a variant as specified within the TMCH.
Brad White: There have been concerns expressed recently about the possible collisions between names on private networks and some new gTLDs that are put into the root. Bottom line, will that translate into a slowdown of the new gTLD program?
Christine Willett: Right now what's proposed is that the eighty percent of strings that are low risk will be able to proceed forward. So right now the only delay is that we're looking for this public comment period to close and to determine if we are in fact able to proceed with those eighty percent of strings. So there would not be much have a delay for those strings. For any that are in that uncalculated or high-risk bucket, there could be a delay as we determine and we look at the feedback from the community and we determine what action to take with those strings.
Brad White: With the first new gTLDs about to be delegated, a lot of applicants are wondering how they might interact with ICANN in terms of media and communications support.
Christine Willett: Absolutely and I can … we understand that part of the new gTLD program in is building support and success for these new registry operators and we want them to succeed. So our communications team has built a media toolkit … a support plan that outlines for each new gTLD applicant what we can do to support them as they launch their new businesses and that toolkit outlines things like social media, PR support, website support. Things we can do to as they build their communications plans and their marketing launch plans. The support they can get from ICANN.
Brad White: Do you have any idea when the second application window is going to open?
Christine Willett: I wish I did. My best guess is we're looking at a couple years down the road. The one-year after the first delegation, we have through our affirmation of commitments an obligation to begin studying some metrics about the program and the work to assess and do some feasibility research on that has already begun. So … once that metrics … that study is done, then I think we can viably be looking at the second round.
Brad White: So it appears like you're saying the bottom line is that we want to look at the first round, see what works, see what needs to be fixed, what needs to be tweaked?
Christine Willett: Correct! We will … staff … we know most definitely we expect to learn, take our lessons learned from this round and what we can do better collectively. Both … from a guidebook perspective, as well as from an operational execution perspective and bring that into the next round.
Brad White: Now that we're in the home stretch on this initial round of applications, is there anything that jumps to your mind that you would like to see changed in subsequent application routes?
Christine Willett: You know, I think … I think the thing I've learned is that this community clearly wants transparency, no doubt, but also consistency and that there's great comfort and consistency of execution consistency of results and sometimes the more transparent we can be, the more clear about some of those inconsistencies or perceived inconsistencies, then I think the better off the community can understand the program and understand the results and get comfort with the ultimate execution and end result of the program.
Brad White: So people want to know what's going on and why?
Christine Willett: Absolutely!
Brad White: Christine, thank you very much.
Christine Willett: Thanks so much Brad.