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The New generic Top-Level Domain Program

What are gTLDs?

On the Internet, every website has an address, known as the domain name. The name is split into parts, including the name and a suffix at the end. The suffix - such as .com, or .edu - is called a top-level domain (TLD). There are two types of TLDs: generic, such as .com, .net and .org, and country code TLDs (ccTLDs), designating countries and territories, such as .ca and .uk.

Every address is also expressed in numerical sequences, called Internet Protocol (IP) numbers. The Domain Name System (DNS), which translates names into numbers, is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), whose main role is to coordinate the global Internet’s systems of unique identifiers.

Top-level domains (TLDs) are at the top of the Domain Name System (DNS), which is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Domain names allow us to locate and access devices and resources connected to the Internet. There are two types of TLDs: generic TLDs (gTLDs), such as .com, .net and .org, and country code TLDs (ccTLDs), designating countries and territories. For many years, the number of gTLDs was limited to 22. In 2012, ICANN launched the New generic Top-Level Domain  Program, opening up the DNS beyond this number. Under the new programme, any organisation could apply for a new gTLDs, as long as it complied with a series of criteria established by ICANN.

Since then, the DNS expanded to more than 1000 gTLDs. Currently, the programme is under continuous review, and there are also discussions on the possibility of launching new gTLD rounds.

 

Latest updates

22 December. ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) issued an Advisory on the Stability of the Domain Namespace tackling the issue of ‘name collisions’ - the ambiguity on the use of the domain namespace, in cases when domain names allocated and used within the public DNS are also used for other purposes, outside the DNS (for example, home and corp are used as domain names in private networks, but there are also applications for these names to be registered as new gTLDs). Noting that name collisions threatens the stability of the domain namespace, SSAC recommends that ICANN establishes ‘definitive and unambiguous criteria for determining whether or not a syntactically valid domain name label could be a top-level domain name in the global DNS’, and that it does not make any decision to add new TLDs to the DNS until this matter is addressed.

7 November.  ICANN Board adopts a resolution allowing registries of new gTLDs to offer for registration two-letter ASCII domain names that match country codes (e.g. uk.info). Up to now, registries were required to reserve two-letter domain names within their TLDs and only release them for registration with the agreement of the ‘related government and country-code manager of the string’. The Board resolution notes that the impact of the measure is expected ‘to be positive as new opportunities for diversification, competition and targeted content creation in the gTLD namespace are created, while minimal risk of user confusion has been identified'.

3 November. The Council of Europe published the report Applications to ICANN for Community-based New Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs): Opportunities and challenges from a human rights perspective. This report identifies lessons that can be learned from the new gTLDs initial round to improve on processes applicable to community applications from a human rights angle, with particular regard to the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, non-discrimination and due process. The report is authored by Eve Salomon and Kinanya Pijl.

24 October. The new gTLD subsequent procedures working group held a call to plan the agenda of their upcoming face-to-face meeting in ICANN 57, and defined the questions they plan to seek community input on.

11 October. The report Phase II Assessment of the Competitive Effects Associated with the New gTLD Program has been put under public comment until 5 December. The report compares changes in the domain name marketplace since the publication of the Phase I Assessment in September 2015. The reports will provide inputs to the work of the Competition, Consumer Trust and Consumer Choice Review Team (CCT).

11 September. The Phase Two Global Registrant Survey is published. The study, conducted by Nielsen, examines domain name registrants’ perceived sense of trust, choice and experience in the current domain name landscape.

 

The New generic Top-Level Domain Program in detail

The first expansions of the DNS

ICANN's work on the introduction of new top-level domains has been under way since 1999. By mid-1999, Working Group C - entrusted with considering the introduction of new gTLDs - reached consensus that ICANN should add new gTLDs to the root by means of an initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs, followed by an evaluation period. This work was undertaken throughout the year 2000. Seven new domains were introduced: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro. This was the first effort to expand the domain name system since the 1980s, with the exception of adding ccTLDs.

In July 2002, the New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force (NTEPPTF) defined the criteria for assessment of this initial round under four categories: technical, business, legal, and process. The outcome of the evaluation focused on policy and legal aspects. The evaluation of other dimensions was still ongoing when a round of sponsored TLDs took place in 2003 and 2004. A sponsor is an organisation to which is delegated some defined policy-formulation authority regarding the operation of a particular sponsored TLD. Among the approved TLDs were .mobi and .travel.
 

Preparing for the New gTLD Program

Following the success of these ‘proof of concept’ rounds, ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organisation (GNSO), the body responsible for the development of policies concerning generic top-level domains, took steps to develop a mechanism for applicants to propose new gTLDs. The GNSO requested an issues report, which was published in 5 December 2005, and covered four areas, each of them called a ‘term of reference’: whether to continue to introduce new gTLDs; the criteria for approving applications; the allocation method for choosing new gTLDs; and the contractual conditions for new gTLDs.

The issues report provided the framework for the GNSO policy development process (PDP). The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) also helped to frame the discussion, by means of the approval of GAC's March 2007 Public Policy Principles for New gTLDs, related to the introduction, delegation and operation of new generic top level domains (gTLDs) and the suggestion of a set of implementation guidelines. These guidelines, among other aspects related to the implementation of the future policy, were commented by ICANN staff on the Introduction of new top-level domains ICANN staff discussion points.

In August 2007, the GNSO approved a set of 20 policy recommendations for the introduction of new gTLDs. The report consisted of two parts. Part A included principles, policy recommendations and implementation guidelines; Part B included a range of supplementary materials that have been used during the course of the policy development process, such as: the report of the Internationalised Domain Names Working Group (IDN-WG), the report of the Reserved Names Working Group (RN-WG), the report of the Protecting the Rights of Others Working Group (PRO-WG) and the March 2007 Public Policy Principles for New gTLDs.

The reasons pointed out by the GNSO to justify the creation of new gTLDs were based on the successful experience of the proof-of-concept round, which made clear that there are no technical impediments for their introduction. It was also based on the belief that expanding the domain name space to accommodate the introduction of new gTLDs, including internationalised domain name (IDN) top-level domains, would will give end users more choice about the nature of their presence on the Internet and offer them multilingual options.

Based on the GNSO recommendations, the ICANN Board directed staff to develop an implementation plan. As a result, in June 2011, the ICANN Board approved an Application Guidebook (AGB) for new gTLDs and authorised the launch of the New generic Top-Level Domain Program. The AGB provided that it was intended to govern ‘the first round of what is to be an ongoing process for the introduction of new gTLDs’ and that ‘ICANN's goal [was] to launch subsequent gTLD application rounds as quickly as possible’.

In January 2012, the New generic Top-Level Domain Program was officially launched, and applications started being received. At the end of the application period, ICANN received 1930 applications for new gTLDs. As of 30 September 2016, 1186 strings had been delegated.
 

Governmental advice on public policy issues

Since the start of the discussions on the introduction of new gTLDs, governments represented in the GAC have raised numerous concerns related to the public policy implications of new gTLDs. These have been the subject of many pieces of advice submitted by the GAC to the ICANN Board, both before and after the launch of the new gTLD programme.

Below we provide an overview of the main GAC concerns and requirements, clustered into broader policy areas:

Human rights

  • New gTLDs should respect the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Culture and identity

  • New gTLDs should respect sensitivities regarding terms with national, cultural, geographic and religious significance. ICANN was advised to avoid country, territory or place names, and country, territory or regional language or people descriptions, unless in agreement with the relevant governments or public authorities.
  • New gTLD registries should adopt measures for blocking, at the demand of governments, names with national and geographic significance at the second level of any new gTLD, as well as develop procedures to allow governments to challenge abuses of such names.

Intellectual property

  • The introduction of new gTLDs should take into account third party rights, including trademark rights and rights in the names and acronyms of intergovernmental organisations. Applicants for new gTLDs should identify how they will limit the need for defensive registrations and minimise cyber-squatting.
  • Domain name registration policies should include prohibitions against piracy and trademark and copyright infringement.

Consumer protection, confidence, and trust

  • New gTLDs should not be confusingly similar to existing TLDs. Two letter gTLDs should not be introduced, in order to avoid confusion with ccTLDs.
  • Domain name registration policies should include prohibitions against fraudulent and deceptive practices, and counterfeiting.
  • gTLDs that are linked to regulated or professional sectors (such as .dentist, .bank, .lawyer, etc.) should operate in compliance with applicable laws. Moreover, in the case of gTLDs associated with market sectors that have regulatory entry requirements (such as .bank and .pharm), governments have proposed measures aimed at ensuring that only entities having the appropriate authorisations to operate in the respective sectors could register domain names in such gTLDs.

Security and stability

  • The selection process for new gTLDs should ensure the security, reliability, and global interoperability and stability of the DNS. New gTLD operators should implement practices for ensuring the security and stability of the TLD and the DNS as a whole.
  • Domain name registration policies should include prohibitions against the distribution of malware, operation of botnets, and phishing. In addition, periodic analyses should be conducted by registries to assess whether domains in their gTLDs are used to perpetrate security threats, such as pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets. Mitigation policies for such cases, as well as complaints mechanisms, should also be put in place.

Legal aspects

  • In order to assist law enforcement authorities in their activities, data regarding the domain names registered in the new gTLDs (i.e. the so-called WHOIS data) should be kept accurate. As such, periodic checks should be performed to identify registrations with false, inaccurate or incomplete whois information. In addition, there should be mechanisms in place for complaints regarding whois data inaccuracy.

Some of these recommendations have been accepted and implemented by the ICANN Board, while others are still under discussion. A more comprehensive record of GAC advice on new gTLDs is available on the GAC website.
 

Reviews related to the new gTLDs

Competition, Consumer Trust and Consumer Choice (CCT) Review

The CCT review was mandated by the Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce. ICANN has committed to conducting a regular review of how the New gTLD Program has impacted competition, consumer choice and consumer trust. The CCT review has two main goals: Determine the extent to which the introduction of new gTLDs has promoted competition, consumer choice and consumer trust in the DNS; Assess the effectiveness of the application and evaluation processes, and of the safeguards put in place to mitigate issues.

In order to help informing the CCT Review Team's assessment, ICANN collaborated with the community to generate reports on the following topics:

Programme Implementation reviews: a self-assessment by members of ICANN staff charged with executing the New gTLD Program, which examines the effectiveness and efficiency of ICANN's implementation of the New gTLD Program. The report examines eight topics: 1) Application Processing; 2) Application Evaluation; 3) Objection/Dispute Resolution; 4) Contention Resolution; 5) Contracting and Transition to Delegation; 6) Applicant Support Program; 7) Continuing Operations Instruments; 8) Program Operations (ex. customer service, communications, vendor and financial management). The report was published in January 2016.

DNS Abuse: before the launch of the New gTLD Program, ICANN solicited stakeholders to examine the potential for increases in abusive, malicious, and criminal activity in an expanded domain name system. A number of recommendations and safeguards were proposed by the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), the Registry Internet Safety Group (RISG), the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), the Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) and members from the banking, financial and Internet security communities, in an initial report published in October 2009. Presently, the DNS Abuse review is analysing the implementation and effectiveness of these safeguards in mitigating DNS abuse in new gTLDs. A report by ICANN staff was published in July 2016, analysing methods for measuring the effectiveness of safeguards to mitigate DNS abuse that were implemented as part of the New gTLD Program. It also explores which activities may constitute DNS abuse and provides a preliminary literature review examining rates of abuse in new gTLDs and the DNS as a whole. ICANN is seeking a provider to conduct a study examining rates of malicious and abusive behavior in the global DNS.

Rights Protection: evaluates intellectual property protection mechanisms. A report on RPMs was published in September 2015, including the ones below:

  • the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), a global repository for verified trademark data used to support both Trademark Claims and Sunrise Services.
  • Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS), designed to offer a lower-cost, faster path to relief for rights holders experiencing clear-cut cases of infringement caused by domain name registrations.
  • Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedures (PDDRP), which provides an alternative avenue for those harmed by the conduct of a new gTLD Registry Operator to complain about that conduct.

Trademark Clearinghouse Independent Review

A Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) recommendation from May 2011 suggested a comprehensive post-launch independent review of the TMCH to be conducted one year after the launch of the 75th new gTLD in the round. ICANN has commissioned an independent review to assess processes related to the TMCH in conjunction with the specified areas for review proposed by the GAC, which include the issue of non-exact matches and ongoing Claims. A preliminary report has been published by Analysis Group.

 

The new gTLD subsequent procedures working group

After the application period for new gTLDs closed, the GNSO created the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Discussion Group, in 2012, with the aim to follow-up and review the first round of the new gTLD programme. The deliverables of the Discussion Group were published in June, 2015 and they included a matrix of topics that should be revisited. The GNSO council requested the production of an Issue Report, which was published on December 2015, providing the framework for the initiation of a policy development process that may lead to changes or adjustments for subsequent New gTLD rounds.

On 17 December, the GNSO approved the creation of the working group on new gTLD subsequent procedures, with the aim to review and improve, if necessary, the 2007 GNSO’s policy recommendations. The working group has been tasked with: a) clarifying, amending or overriding existing policy principles, recommendations, and implementation guidance; b) developing new policy recommendations; c) supplementing or developing new implementation guidance. Any changes to the current policy would affect procedures for introducing additional gTLDs in the future.

The working group started by analysing the principles and policy recommendations from the 2007 GNSO policy. The aim was to assess if these recommendations still hold true and to identify the ones that require further discussion.

The WG clustered its substantive discussions in two areas: a discussion on overarching issues and a discussion based on working tracks. The following overarching questions were shared with all Supporting Organisations and Advisory Committees at the beginning of the WG’s work:

  • Cancelling subsequent procedures. A discussion on whether or not additional gTLDs should be introduced has been taking place. A list of pros and cons of the creation of new gTLDs has been proposed.
  • Categorisation of TLD types. In the Application Guidebook, only two types of TLDs had been identified, a community-based application and a standard application. Some examples of categories that were proposed for consideration include closed generics, further refinements around .brand, sensitive strings, and strings related to regulated markets. The last two stem largely from the GAC’s Beijing Communiqué on Safeguards on New gTLDs.
  • Application assessed in rounds. GNSO recommendation 13 says that applications must initially be assessed in rounds until the scale of demand is clear. Nevertheless, other methods have been envisioned, such as a perpetually open programme, accepting applications on a rolling basis. A list of pros and cons has been created.
  • Predictability. Predictability is critical for planning and decision-making. However, adjustments were introduced throughout the new gTLD round, including in important documents, such as the AGB and the base registry agreement. Some standards on predictability have been identified.
  • Community engagement. This issue is deeply linked with the need for predictability. Without robust community engagement, it is conceivable that New gTLD Program requirements could be altered after programme launch.
  • Application submission limits. There were no policy recommendations in the 2007 GNSO final report that sought to place restrictions on the number of applications that could be submitted from a single applicant. This issue is now being discussed by the working group. A list of pros and cons of establishing restrictions has been made.

In parallel, the four WG’s working tracks encompass the most substantive work of the WG and are dedicated to the following topics:

  • Work track 1: Overall process, support for applicants and outreach
  • Work track 2: Legal and regulatory aspects and contractual obligations
  • Work track 3: String contention, objections and disputes
  • Work track 4: Internationalized domain names – technical and operational aspects.
 
Parallel work that could affect the discussions on new gTLDs:

There are several ongoing working groups and community efforts that could influence the discussions on new gTLDs, such as:

  • ICANN New gTLD Program Reviews, including:
    • Rights Protection Reviews

    • Programme Implementation Reviews

    • Security & Stability Reviews
    • Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Data Review
  • Affirmation of Commitment (AoC) reviews related to Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice (CCT Review)
  • The Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) reviews on previous guidance provided regarding the New gTLD Program and determining if new recommendations are needed.
  • The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) has formed working groups on the topics of: a) community applications, b) underserved regions, and c) geographic names.
  • Trademark Clearinghouse Independent Review
  • The Cross-Community Working Group on Use of Country/Territory Names as TLDs is analysing the current status of country and territory names in the ICANN ecosystem and determining the feasibility of creating a framework that could be applied across SOs and ACs
  • PDP Protection of IGO and INGO Identifiers in All gTLDs
  • PDP IGO-INGO Access to Curative Rights Protection Mechanisms
 
Issues

 Root zone   Internet protocol (IP) numbers  Domain name system (DNS)

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