ICANN to replace Digital Archery program with gTLD domain raffle

ICANN hopes to use a lottery to decide which new top-level domain applications will be evaluated first

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has proposed holding an old-fashioned raffle to determine which applications for new top-level domains should be handled first. To make the lottery legal, the organization hopes to use a loophole in Californian law.

ICANN was planning to use a "Digital Archery" contest to determine which applications for a new Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) such as ".security", ".beer" or ".download" should be evaluated first. A system like this is needed because not all the 1,923 gTLD applications can be handled at once.

Applicants are keen to have their domains evaluated promptly so as to get them online as soon as possible. ICANN, however, has said that it can only handle around 1,000 applications a year.

Using Digital Archery, applicants would have to shoot their digital arrow as close as they could to the bulls eye of a time stamp. This method was cancelled in June after applicants complained about unexpected results and network latency issues which they said made the method unfair. And since than ICANN has been contemplating an alternative method.

One of the obvious alternatives is holding a lottery -- but as a California non-profit ICANN has to abide by California laws that forbid unlicensed lotteries. ICANN, though, thinks it has found a loophole in the law.

"The Draw is an exemption to lottery laws in California and other relevant jurisdictions that permit certain non-profit groups (including ICANN) to hold fundraising drawings," ICANN said in a document released this week detailing the plan. "ICANN has registered for the license for conducting the Draw and expects to receive a license no later than the end of November."

The draw will be a manual process. Each applicant will have to purchase one US$100 paper draw ticket for each domain name application. The purchases must be made in person, or by a stand-in appointed by the applicant or by ICANN. ICANN plans to hold the draw between Dec. 4 and 15, and will assign each application will a draw number that will determine priority during the entire gTLD evaluation process.

The draw numbers will be used to schedule initial evaluations, the results of which will be published starting late March, ICANN said. "The Draw Numbers will also be used later in the process to schedule appointments for pre-delegation testing, and executing agreements," it added. There will be approximately twenty pre-delegation testing appointments per week and twenty contracts executed per week.

"No contracts will be fully executed or delegations made prior to the ICANN meeting in Beijing," said ICANN. The Beijing meeting is scheduled to take place from April 7 to 11.

"Due to the rules regarding such drawings, ICANN will not be able to sell the tickets via the Internet, but only to applicants or their representatives directly," ICANN said, adding that there are also requirements regarding the use of proceeds for such drawing "that will be strictly adhered to."

Using this process the delegation of gTLDs is expected to start in June or July next year, half a year earlier than recent estimates. Initially though, the delegation of gTLDs was planned to start this fall.

"For me it is still a six month delay," said Jannik Skou, partner at consulting firm Thomsen Trampedach, who assists companies in applying for gTLDs. The whole ongoing process concerning batching systems, from Digital Archery to the now proposed lottery, is "a farce", he said.

But he favors the lottery over Digital Archery. "Anything is better than Digital Archery," he said, adding that he still wonders why ICANN didn't think the whole process through before it started. "It seems like a waste of time not holding a lottery immediately," he said. But it is a relief to know now what the probable pace of the process will be, he said.

Skou still has some criticisms of the new process, especially of ICANN's decision to prioritize the evaluation of internationalized domain name (IDN) applications. The 114 applications for generic top level domain names in non-Latin scripts such as Chinese, Arabic or Japanese will get priority in order to promote diversity and make the Internet more accessible, ICANN said.

"I'm puzzled why IDNs get priority," said Skou. If a company such as Yahoo or Google for instance had known beforehand that IDNs would be handled first they might have applied for a Chinese gTLD first, he said. "Such exemptions should have been announced in advance."

Skou said he still hopes that the gTLD draw proposal will be approved. Whether that will happen depends on two things: the reaction of applicants, who still have about four weeks to comment on ICANN's plan in an internal review, and on the state of California, which has yet to approve the lottery license. The public comment process will undoubtedly yield a lot of criticism, said Skou.

Fairwinds Partners, an internet consulting firm, said in a blog post it expected the gTLD draw to be a hot topic during next week's ICANN meeting in Toronto.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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