At last week´s ICANN Meeting in San Francisco, the ICANN Board made public that they are now striving at approving the new gTLD program at a dedicated Board Meeting to be held on June 20 at the next Singapore ICANN Meeting.
See the new timeline here.
If everything goes according to Board Plans the last open issues will be tackled following this scheme:
March 25th: Feed back on GAC/ICANN Board consultations by the GAC
April 15th: Board´s publication on changes and new language to the Applican Guidebook based on GAC input/negotiations - open for public comment until May 15th
May 20th: GAC/ICANN Board teleconference on the "GAC Scorecard"
May 30th: Publication of the "Final Guidebook"
June 20th: Board Approval of the new gTLD program
So assuming ICANN will stick to this timeline, we can expect the application window for new gTLDs to open on October 20th, 2011 (after 4 months ICANN "awareness campaign").
To brand owners this means they should start budgetting for dotBrand investments already this fiscal year.
What makes me think that the Board will manage to finalize the policy work for new gTLD programs and in particular to reach agreements with GAC on open issues - or - at least to reach a consensus within the Board on how to explain the rationale behind NOT meeting all GAC requirements (i.e. an extension of variant of Brand names in the URS) - this time?
Well, the fact that the Board did finally make a decision on the controversial topic of .xxx (it was approved by the board with a small majority vote and a number of non voting board members including CEO Rod Beckstrom, who will later publish a written rationale for not voting on the .xxx matter - poor leadership in my view not to vote. He should at least had explained why he abstained from voting...looking forward to seeing his rationale behind that one.), and the fact that in my view there were a much better atmosphere at the GAC / ICANN Board consultations, and the fact that one could easily interpret Bill Clinton´s and other ICANN "founders" speeches as "pro-new-gTLDs" indicate to me that this time - the timeline is trustworthy. I do not think the ICANN Board would risk to publish a new timeline, if they were not convinced they could stick to it this time. Furthermore, the fact that the Chair of Board Peter Dengate Trush after 10 years of duty will leave ICANN following the Singapore meeting in June, makes me assume that he and other board members would do anything (almost however controversial) to approve the new gTLD program while Peter is still in office. There is a hell of a lot difference between having been the chair of an organization that wound in endless negotiations, bureaucratic processes, and lack of reliability, to having been the chair of ICANN when the liberalization of new gTLDs in Latin and non Latin script, extended the structure of the namespace and opened the Internet to new players in all parts of the world.
Hence, I would be extremely surprised, if we do not see the ICANN Board approving the Final Guide Book on June 20, and consequently the application window to open late October 2011.