ICANN suspends Digital Archery contest for gTLD program

Companies who invested in the controversial Digital Archery system for determining application processing order may lose out

ICANN has suspended the Digital Archery contest part of its new Generic Top-level Domain (gTLD) Program, which was destined to decide which gTLD applications would be handled first, the organization announced on Saturday. The future of this application process is still to be determined, ICANN said during a news conference in Prague on Monday.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers received over 1,900 applications to create new generic top-level domains such as "news", "sex" or "pizza." However, the organization can only handle 500 gTLD applications at a time, and so needs a way to determine which applications would be handled first. Each batch takes approximately 5 months to evaluate, according to ICANN, giving companies who end up in the first batch a potential head-start launching their gTLD.

The method initially chosen, Digital Archery, is an online competition for applicants for new generic top-level domain calling for them to shoot a digital arrow as close as they could to a selected time to determine in which batch their application would be dealt with.

ICANN cancelled the Digital Archery competition over the weekend, though, leaving applicants in doubt about the batch selection process. The primary reason to suspend that part of the program was complaints about the timestamp system returning unexpected results, due to network latency and as a result of how the timestamp system responds under differing circumstances, ICANN announced.

Applicants had until June 28 to register timestamps, and approximately 20 percent had already done so when the registration system was suspended, ICANN said.

ICANN can not yet reveal what the next step in the process will be, President and CEO Rod Beckstrom said at the Prague news conference. "There are numerous discussions taking place this week," he said, adding that the community was asked to give feedback on the Digital Archery suspension. ICANN will be meeting this week in Prague.

Chief Operating Officer Akram Atallah said the organization will review the procedure and make the results available for everyone to see. The information gathered from the community in Prague will be weighed by the gTLD Committee of the ICANN Board.

Beckstrom could not say if the companies who already aimed for the first of bulls eye were out of luck. If the Digital Archery process is cancelled this could affect companies who already invested time, or perhaps money, in the process. One company, Pool.com, stepped forward to offer to hit the batch-one bulls eye on behalf of applicants for a $25,000 fee.

Beckstrom said ICANN had no opinion on such services, and added that individual actions of third parties around the gTLD application process are not under the influence of ICANN.

"Our clients, other archery service clients and other applicants who have followed the rules undertaking investments to compete at the highest level are now subject to harm should the digital archery process not be re-established," said Peter LaMantia of digitalarcheryexperts.com in an email. He said the service has several clients, but would not disclose what he would charge for a batch-one bulls eye.

"ICANN established the digital archery rules and it needs to follow through with the process," said LaMantia. Although he reckons that ICANN's suspension of the service was probably carefully considered and in the best interest of the new gTLD program as a whole, he thinks the Digital Archery program still has to be executed. Failure to do so will discredit the integrity of the body, demonstrating that future decisions and rules can be altered as a result of a few vocal dissenting voices, he said.

In related news, ICANN announced a replacement for Beckstrom, who had previously announced that he will step down as president and CEO on July 1. Fadi Chehadé, most recently CEO of Vocado, a provider of cloud software to school administrations, will take over the posts by Oct. 1, ICANN said. Until then, Atallah, the COO, will act as interim CEO.

ICANN's next meeting will be held in Beijing in April.

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