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 find a given location in 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.
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.
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 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 31 January 2017, 1215 strings had been delegated.
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:
New gTLDs should respect the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Culture and identity
Consumer protection, confidence, and trust
Security and stability
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.
Competition, Consumer Trust and Consumer Choice (CCT) Review
The CCT review was mandated by the Affirmation of Commitments between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce (terminated in January 2017), and was later incorporated in the new ICANN bylaws (in force since October 2016, following the finalisation of the IANA stewardship transition process). 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 late 2015, a Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice (CCT) Review Team (CCTRT) was formed, with the aim to assess the effectiveness of the application and evaluation process, and the effectiveness of safeguards put in place to mitigate issues in the New gTLD Program. Three sub-teams are currently focused on:
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), 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. In August 2016, ICANN announced it was seeking a provider to conduct a study examining rates of malicious and abusive behavior in the global DNS. The final report is expected to be published in mid March 2017.
The CCTRT published its draft report in March 2017, asking for community input until 27 April. The report covers the following areas: new gTLD Program history, competition in the DNS marketplace, consumer choice, consumer trust, DNS abuse, safeguards, public interest commitments, right protection mechanisms, and application and evaluation. The overall conclusion of the review is that 'the New gTLD Program has led to dramatic increase in consumer choice, a modest increase in competition and minimal impact on consumer trust', and that 'there is substantial need for mor and better data on both competition and pricing and on the impact of safeguards on consumer protection'. The draft report describes 50 recommendations, including several that are considered by the Review Team to be prerequisites to the opening of the next application period for new gTLDs.
Trademark Clearinghouse Independent Review
A 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 and examine in particular: (1) whether domains that relate to, but do not exactly match trademarks should be considered for use in the Claims period of a new gTLD's lifecycle; and (2) if extending the number of days of the Claims service would be of value and measures how frequently trademark holders use the Sunrise period. A preliminary report was published by Analysis Group in July 2016, and was followed by a report of public comments (in September 2016). A revised report was published in February 2017, and it concluded, among others, that: it is possible that the Claims Service and matching criteria help deter rights-infringing registrations that are exact matches to trademark strings recorded in the TMCH; it is also possible that some good faith registrations are being deterred by the current Claims Service system, which may be detrimental to the registration activity of non-trademark-holder domain registrants; extending the Claims Service or expanding the matching criteria used for triggering Claims Service notifications may be of limited benefit to trademark holders and will be associated with costs incurred by other stakeholder groups, such as registries, registrars, and non-trademark-holder domain registrants; and although trademark holders value access to the Sunrise period and many submit proof of use to become eligible for Sunrise registrations, few trademark holders make Sunrise registrations.
Security & Stability
The review is aimed to examine the impact of the New gTLD Program on the root zone of the DNS, in order to determine if additional steps are necessary as a prerequisite to adding more TLDs to the root zone. Following a request for proposals published in June 2015, The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), working in a consortium with SIDN and NLnet Labs, was selected to conduct the study in October 2015. The draft study was published in October 2016. A report of public comments was published on 9 February 2017. The final report is scheduled for publication in April 2017.
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 in 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.
In December 2015, 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:
In parallel, the four WG’s working tracks encompass the most substantive work of the WG and are dedicated to the following topics:
There are several ongoing working groups and community efforts that could influence the discussions on new gTLDs, such as: