TLD Application System Q&A with Robb Antrobus

by New gTLD Customer Service Center | 23 December 2011

The application window for New gTLD applications will officially open on 12 January 2012, just under a month from today. As parties interested in applying are preparing themselves, the New gTLD Customer Service Center (CSC) has received several questions around the TLD Application System (TAS). TAS is the online system that applicants will use to submit New gTLD applications. Robb Antrobus, Director of New gTLD operations, sat down with us to talk about the process of submitting the application through TAS, and additional information that might be useful for applicants.

CSC: Robb, thanks for being with us today to discuss the registration and application submission process, and the role TAS plays in facilitating this process.

CSC: The current version of the Applicant Guidebook has a TAS registration deadline that was not in previous versions. Can you share with us why applicants must register by 29 March if the official closing of the application window is 12 April 2012?

Robb: The 29 March 2012 date was added to the Applicant Guidebook to give attention to the amount of time this process takes. Applicants should be aware that there are a number of processing steps involved in the registration step, which includes the wiring and receipt of fees by ICANN. All in all, the TAS registration process will take some time to complete. Therefore, there’s a cut-off date of 29 March 2012 for applicants to register in TAS. We want to ensure that applicants will have sufficient time to complete and submit their application in TAS as well as pay the registration and evaluation fees before the application window closes on 12 April 2012. Although 29 March 2012 is the official registration cutoff, I think it’s cutting it close. I actually encourage applicants to register and submit their registration fees as soon as possible, especially for those submitting multiple applications.

CSC: Can you describe the application submission process and what that looks like in TAS?

Robb: Application submission is essentially a two-step process, TAS registration and application submission.

TAS registration is the first step and it involves creating a user account. So we ask the applicant to provide some basic information and select a username and password. After that, users complete their user and applicant profiles, essentially questions 1 through 11 of the evaluation questionnaire. ICANN conducts a review of this information prior to requesting the nonrefundable US$5000 registration fee. Once the initial review is completed we provide information to wire the registration fee. After the registration fee is confirmed and reconciled, the user will be given instructions on how to access the rest of TAS where they can complete their application. All of these steps are part of the registration process.

The second step of the process is for the user to complete the remaining application responses, meaning evaluation questions 13-50, and submit the remaining evaluation fee.

Making this a 2-step process allows us to perform some due diligence on users and applicants, and collect the registration fee before we begin to collect the details of their application responses.

CSC: What if I want to submit multiple applications? Do I have to create a user account for each application that I want to submit?

Robb: Not necessarily. So there is a difference between a "user profile" and an "applicant profile." The user profile relates to creating an account to access TAS whereas the applicant profile relates to the entity that will be submitting an application. The user profile and applicant profile can be the same or they can be different.

So, whether you are an entity submitting a single application, multiple applications, or you are a consultant submitting multiple applications on behalf of multiple entities (i.e., "clients") you have options.

For instance, you can create a single user account and applicant profile and submit one or multiple applications under this single account. This would be case where a single entity is expecting to submit one or multiple applications.

Alternatively, a consultant can create a single user profile and create multiple applicant profiles under that user to then submit applications on the clients’ behalf. In that case, both the user profile and each applicant profile must still go under its own review before the wiring instructions can be forwarded and US$5000 registration fee received by ICANN.

Finally, if you want to have multiple accounts (i.e., user profiles) within TAS this is also possible. The key requirement here is that TAS will require unique contact information, specifically the email address, for each user profile created.

What is important to remember is that all user profiles and applicant profiles undergo review before the user/applicant can proceed with submitting the registration fee and have the user profile created.

CSC: Is there an advantage to one approach versus the other?

Robb: You mean choosing to have the user and applicant profiles be the same or not? It is really about user preference. The important things to consider here are that the primary and secondary contacts under the user profile are the only individuals that will receive communications regarding the applications. And remember there can only be one primary and one secondary contact per user profile. So, if you have multiple applicant profiles under one single user profile, the primary and secondary contacts under that user profile would receive all communications for all applications under all applicant profiles. Secondly, the user is the only individual with credentials to access TAS. So you have to think about how many applicant profiles one single user would be able to manage. That means submitting the payments, the application, responding to clarification questions, etc.

CSC: Let’s talk about the TAS application itself. Can you describe what TAS will allow an applicant to do? For example, can graphics be attached?

Robb: TAS allows plain text responses to application questions and supporting attachments. Rich text features such as bulleting, bolding, italicizing are not available. There are some limitations with regards to the type and size of the files that can be uploaded. Read the New gTLD Knowledge Base article "TAS Attachments" for more information. I think the best approach is to complete responses in advance, in plain text, with references to attachments or figures in attachments as necessary and then simply copy and paste answers and attach your supporting documentation where indicated.

CSC: The Applicant Guidebook specifies page limits for some of the questions. How are those implemented in TAS?

Robb: One page equates to approximately 4000 characters (including spaces) in TAS so if the page limit in the Applicant Guidebook is 5 pages, that means the applicant will have a 20000-character limit, counting spaces, to answer the question. There’s a Knowledge Base article that describes the TAS character limits for each of the questions. It’s article "TAS Character Limits." The purpose of the page limits is to ensure that we are getting complete, clear, well-thought out, and concise applications.

CSC: Can an applicant modify the application after submitting it?

Robb: Yes. The application can be modified up until the close of the application window on 12 April, even if the remaining US$180000 payment has been made. After the application window closes, the application will be locked from editing.

CSC: What else can an applicant do in TAS?

Robb: The majority of their interaction will be in registering, submitting applications, and responding to clarification questions as necessary. Depending on the path their application takes, they can elect Extended Evaluation (assuming the application does not meet the criteria in Initial Evaluation) or pay additional fees, if for example they are a community-based application and elect community priority evaluation.

CSC: Let’s switch gears and talk about security. Obviously, applicants are concerned about who has access to the sensitive information in their applications. How does TAS address those concerns?

Robb: That’s a valid concern. We fully understand the sensitive nature of the information submitted in TAS. That’s why we’ve engaged two independent security firms to perform security testing on TAS, and have implemented several security measures based on recommendations from these firms, as well as our own internal experts. Some of those security measures include encryption of the database and implementation of other measures to protect the application. Security is also a reason we have a two-step application process (i.e., why we stop registration on 29 March 2012). We’ve set a higher bar for allowing users into the full system.

For security reasons, we’ve also limited access to application data to just service providers and select ICANN personnel. Furthermore, these entities and individuals will only have access to the materials that are absolutely necessary to perform their jobs. For example, the geographic name panel will only have access to the parts of the application that is absolutely necessary for them to perform geographic name evaluations. These measures are in place because we know how important it is to protect this sensitive data.

CSC: Do you have any parting tips for applicants?

Robb: Absolutely. At the top of the list is to register and pay your US$5000 registration fee early. Once you’ve registered, if applying for multiple TLDs, complete an application request and get your registration fee wired for each application as soon as possible. The last thing an applicant wants is to run out of time.

Second, and I mentioned this previously, I highly recommend answering the questions in a word document or any other text editor tool that you use. Applicants can pass around those documents internally for review and finalize all of their responses. Then copy and paste the answers into TAS. And make sure your responses comply with character limits and attachments comply with the upload restrictions. Those are also posted in the Knowledge Base.

As I’ve mentioned, we are taking additional security measures to protect the sensitive information being submitted as part of the application. We also encourage end-users of TAS to take extra security measures when using the system.
Understanding that each user will have multiple passwords, that strong passwords can be hard to remember, and that we recommend users take necessary precautions to protect their credentials, it might be useful to use a password encryption tool to keep all of your TAS-related credentials secured.

Lastly, look out for more information from us. We’ll be making announcements on things like standard TAS maintenance windows where we will take the system down periodically. We’ll announce a schedule in advance at times we hope minimally impact users but will have our IT guys working some awful hours.

CSC: Very informative. Thank you for being with us today, Robb.

Robb: You’re welcome.