When we talk about new gTLDs, it’s almost impossible not to mention the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization behind the initiative. But where exactly did ICANN get the authority to implement a change that will pretty seriously alter the way we think about Internet addresses?

The answer goes back to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC). The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the DoC, entered into an agreement with ICANN, wherein ICANN administers the IANA functions under a contract with the NTIA. IANA stands for the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, and the “IANA functions” refers to the management of the Internet Protocol (IP) address space, the maintenance of registries of IP identifiers, and the management of the top-level domain name space (or the DNS “root zone”).

Feel like you’re swimming through acronym soup? The important thing to remember here is that the NTIA contracts ICANN to manage the top-level domain space – until now, that has meant gTLDs like .COM, .ORG and .NET as well as ccTLDs like .JP and .MX. But it was also within ICANN’s purview to expand the space, which it first did back in 2000 when it started adding new gTLDs like .INFO and .MOBI.

But like any contract, ICANN’s contract with the NTIA has an expiration date. It has been extended in the past, but is now set to expire on March 31, 2012. According to DomainIncite, the NTIA has now announced that it will accept proposals from potential new IANA contractors between early November and early December of this year.

For those of you keeping score at home, March 31 falls within the new gTLD application period (January 12 – April 12, 2012). By then, multiple applications (potentially hundreds) will have already been filed, but the new gTLDs will not have made it into the root.

So what happens in the event that ICANN loses the IANA contract to a new contractor? More importantly, what happens if that new contractor repeals the New gTLD Program in favor of a slower new gTLD rollout or, even, no new rollout at all.

This scenario is not very likely – but it’s not impossible, either. If ICANN were to lose the IANA contract before it has the chance to add new gTLDs into the root, then there is a chance those new gTLDs will not make it into the root. Hopefully in that case, applicants will be refunded the application fee. There is also a possibility that the new contractor will honor those applications and continue on with the New gTLD Program.

We’re not discussing this to incite panic or to scare applicants off from new gTLDs, we’re simply bringing it up because it is a possibility that should be on applicants’ radars. And we will be providing additional updates to keep our readers informed as the NTIA’s Request for Proposal process plays out.

Josh Bourne
So Then What? What Could Happen if the NTIA Does Not Renew its Contract with ICANN