ICANN has released the first draft of its RSP Handbook, the guidelines and questionnaire for registry service providers that want to get pre-approved by the Org ahead of the next new gTLD application round.
The Handbook is aimed at the few dozen companies that offer back-end services to gTLD registries — companies such as GoDaddy, Identity Digital and CentralNic — to guide them through the process of getting approved under the new Registry Service Provider Evaluation Program.
The program was called for by the GNSO community in order to minimize the amount of time-consuming, expensive evaluation work required for each new gTLD application. If a gTLD applicant’s selected RSP has been pre-approved by ICANN, it’s an automatic pass on the technical part of the application.
The new Handbook 1.0 envisages four types of RSP. A “Main RSP” is a full-service provider that looks after all technical aspects of a registry back-end. There are also categories for companies that provide DNS resolution only and DNSSEC services.
A fourth type, the “Proxy RSP”, is aimed primarily at companies that provide secondary registry services in countries that have very restrictive domain licensing rules. That basically means China, and proxies such as ZDNS.
Incumbent gTLD RSPs have a distinct advantage in the Handbook process. If they’re in good standing with ICANN and have complied with their service level agreements for the last six months, they can skip the second, technical part of the evaluation.
Incumbents also get a streamlined process for additional registry services — stuff like name-blocking and registry locks — they wish to offer. If they already offer them in an existing gTLD, they get to skip the full Registry Services Evaluation Process.
The Handbook is a first draft and does not currently include things like fees and dates. It’s not yet open for public comment but you can read the 108-page PDF here.
ICANN expects to launch the pre-evaluation program 18 months before it starts accepting new gTLD applications, so applicants have a list of approved RSPs to choose from. With a Q2 2026 target date for the next application window, that means the RSP program could launch later this year.
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