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.
- 13 March 2018. According to a timeline prepared by the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Working Group, a new round of applications for new gTLDs could be launched in the first quarter of 2021.
- 16 January 2018. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced the entry into force of a policy requiring registries of all generic top-level domains to protect the identifiers of certain intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs).
- 29 September 2017. The ICANN Board issued a new resolution on .amazon, asking the Governmental Advisory Committee whether it has any new or additional information regarding its previous advice that the applications for .amazon should not proceed.
- 23 September 2017. The ICANN Board issued a resolution concerning the declaration of the Independent Review Panel which recommended that the Board re-evaluates the previously rejected .amazon applications. In its resolution, the Board stated that further consideration was needed with regard to the Panel’s recommendation, and asked its Accountability Mechanisms Committee to review and consider the recommendation and provide options for the Board on how to address it.
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 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.
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:
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.
- 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.
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 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:
- Competition and consumer choice – tasked with reviewing the available data on competition and consumer choice, requesting additional data or other resources that may assist in their review, and reporting to the larger CCT Review Team on their findings and recommendations.
- Safeguards and trust – tasked to explore '...the extent to which the introduction or expansion of gTLDs has promoted ... consumer trust ... as well as effectiveness of ... safeguards put in place to mitigate issues involved in the introduction or expansion'.
- Application and evaluation process – looks at the effectiveness of the application and evaluation process in the introduction of new gTLDs.
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 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.
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.
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 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:
- 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:
- Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Review
- Trademark Clearinghouse Independent Review
- Security & Stability Reviews
- 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:
- Geographic names – The group focuses how to improbe the protection offered to geographic names in any future expansions of gTLDs.
- Human rights and international law – The main objective of the group is to consider any appropriate steps that ICANN could take to help ensure that its technical coordination of the DNS is managed in a manner which respects human rights and relevant international law.
- Public safety – The focus of the working group is on assessing whether and seeking to ensure that the DNS and domain name registrations are not used to propagate, enhance, or further unlawful activity, abuse, consumer fraud, deception, and/or violation of law. It also aims to continuously assess whether ICANN has responsive and timeline mechanisms to develop and enforce its contractual obligations with gTLD registries and registrars.
- GNSO Working Group to conduct a Policy Development Process (PDP) on a Review of All Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) in All gTLDs. The group, created within the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), is chartered to conduct a review of all RPMs in all gTLDs in two phases: Phase One will focus on a review of all the RPMs that were developed for the New gTLD Program, and Phase Two will focus on a review of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). The group is also expected to consider the overarching issue as to whether or not all the RPMs collectively fulfill the purposes for which they were created, or whether additional policy recommendations are needed.
- The Cross-Community Working Group on Use of Country/Territory Names as TLDs is analysing the current status of representations of country and territory names, as they exist under current ICANN policies, guidelines, and procedures. The group is also tasked with providing advice regarding the feasibility of creating a framework that could be applied across SOs and ACs.
- On 9 February 2017, the group published an Interim Paper which includes the following draft conclusions and recommendations: the group is of the view that a harmonised framework on the use of country and territory names is not feasible due to various reasons; the group intends to recommend to continue work in this area, after some of the issues limiting this effort have been resolved; members of the group have varying views on structure of the new effort. A public comment period on the Interim Paper was launched on 24 February.
- GNSO PDP Working Group for IGO and INGO Access to Currative Rights Protection Mechanisms. The group is tasked with reviewing whether Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs) and International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) should have access to the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) and the Uniform Rapid Suspension system (URS), and, if so, under what conditions.