What’s Next for the nTLDS? An Overview of ICANN’s Initial Evaluation Timeline and Process

If you’ve been anxiously awaiting the nTLDs (new gTLDs), then you’re not alone. Some of us are too excited to sleep and spend most of our nights continuously refreshing the ICANN homepage, hoping to see more information about when these little guys are going live. But enough about us, because the 1,917 nTLD applicants still in the running have been waiting for ICANN’s initial evaluation results since October, and they’ve got an exciting few months ahead of them.

ICANN’s working hard to get through all the applications, and hopes to start releasing initial evaluation results later this month. For those of you new to nTLD watching, or those who have been patiently standing by for more information, here’s a run-down of what to expect, as the initial evaluations start coming out.

Christine Willett, the general manager of ICANN’s new gTLD program, hosted a webinar about the initial evaluation process, to try to solidify important dates and let applicants know where their applications stood. The main takeaway points were:

  • Initial evaluation results are set to be released, according to priority draw number, on Mar. 23, 2013.
  • ICANN hopes to review about 100 application per week, starting now and ending in June 2013 – meaning that depending where an application is on the priority drawing list, that applicant will receive their initial evaluation results anywhere between Mar. 23 and the end of June.
  • About 80% of applicants will receive clarifying questions (CQs) during their initial evaluation process — those CQs will be issued between Jan. and June of this year. The questions are meant to clarify areas of applications that need more information, or to update information that may have changed since the initial applications were received, in June of 2012.
  • Applicants have four weeks to respond to clarifying questions.
  • After clarifying questions, applications will go through a final review, and initial evaluation results will be published, again according to priority draw placement, starting in May 2013, and ending in August 2013.

So if you’re wondering when the first nTLDs are going to “go live,” the best guess for applications closer to the front of the priority list, would be sometime in the summer of this year. Applicants will still have to go through a pre-delegation process after the initial evaluation results are published, so even if applicants make it through the initial evaluation with no major concerns (most are expected to), applicants won’t be going straight from initial evaluation to launch.

Still fuzzy on what exactly the initial evaluation is? During the initial evaluation, ICANN has multiple panels reviewing applications. Each panel is named for the service it provides, and the panels included in initial evaluation are:

  • Background screening: The background screening process is already partially complete. ICANN already checked to make sure that those applying are who they say they are, but now ICANN will need to evaluate the background of the applicant to make sure there are no conflicts of interest, such as a former cyber-squatter applying for administration rights of nTLDs.
  • String similarity: During the initial evaluation, ICANN will be checking each applicant to make sure proposed nTLDs are not too similar to one another, or to previously released gTLDs, in order to prevent string contentions.
  • DNS stability: ICANN will make sure each applicant has the DNS (domain name system) capability to support the administration and registry of their proposed nTLD.
  • Geographic names: During this phase of evaluation, ICANN makes sure that no proposed strings are in contention with geographical TLDs. Swiss Airlines already had to withdraw their application to .SWISS for this exact reason.
  • Financial: In order to properly administrate a nTLD, the applicant needs to have the financial stability to properly run and support the needs of the registry.
  • Technical and operational: Another initial evaluation check to make sure the applicants proposing nTLDs have the capability to run and support an entire registry for their nTLD(s).
  • Registry services: During this evaluation, applicants will be checked to make sure the manner in which they will be registering their nTLD conforms to ICANN guidelines, and that the proposed use of a string, as expressed in the application, meshes with the ICANN guidelines concerning how to provide registry services.

If you’re as excited as we are about nTLDs, then keep checking back here, on our blog – we’ll keep posting up-to-date information on the new gTLD application process. If you’ve got your eye on a handful of nTLDs, make sure to check out our nTLD watcher, which will keep you updated on the nTLDs you care about.