What ICANN's Public Comment Period for gTLD Applications is All About

By Doug Isenberg Anyone with an opinion about any of the pending 1,930 gTLD applications has an immediate opportunity to make his voice known, thanks to a 60-day public comment period at ICANN.

Only a week into the process, though, misunderstandings already abound.

Unlike the formal gTLD objection process, the public comment system is much more limited. Specifically, ICANN's Applicant Guidebook describes the comment period this way:

Evaluators will perform due diligence on the application comments (i.e., determine their relevance to the evaluation, verify the accuracy of claims, analyze meaningfulness of references cited) and take the information provided in these comments into consideration....

In the new gTLD application process, all applicants should be aware that comment fora are a mechanism for the public to bring relevant information and issues to the attention of those charged with handling new gTLD applications.

Thus, relevant comments are those that address the two main elements of the initial evaluation for each application, namely: (1) whether the applied-for gTLD string is "not likely to cause security or stability problems in the DNS" and (2) "whether the applicant has the requisite technical, operational, and financial capabilities to operate a registry."

Despite these caveats, many of the early comments submitted do not address the criteria that evaluation panels will consider when reviewing the gTLD applications. Indeed, based on the numerous comments already posted on some applications, it appears as if there are coordinated campaigns to support certain applications -- as if the commenting system is nothing more than an online petition drive.

Because the commenting system is open to anyone who registers, and because there is no charge to post a comment, the public comments could become a free-for-all.

As a result, it may be challenging for evaluation panels to distinguish applicable comments from those that do not address the criteria they are to consider.

Further, as the Guidebook makes clear, "Public comments will not be considered as formal objections." Therefore, anyone who objects to a specific gTLD application on one of the enumerated grounds -- string confusion,  legal rights, limited public interest and community -- must pay a fee to the applicable dispute resolution service provider, which will issue a decision.

The bottom line: The public comment system could help evaluators pass judgment on gTLD applications in narrow circumstances, but the process is at risk of being devalued, and the only surefire way to oppose a gTLD application is by filing a formal objection, for a fee, with a dispute resolution service provider.