New gTLD Program
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 on 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, such as .br for Brazil and .ua for Ukraine. For many years, the number of gTLDs was limited to 22.
In 2012, ICANN launched the New gTLD Program, opening up the DNS beyond this number. Under the new programme, any organisation could apply for a new gTLD, as long as it complied with a series of criteria established by ICANN.
Since then, the DNS has expanded to more than 1200 gTLDs. Currently, the programme is under continuous review and there is ongoing work on preparing new gTLD rounds.
How a new gTLD round could look like
In June 2019, ICANN published an informational paper on the organisation’s readiness to support future rounds of new gTLDs. The document outlines a series of working assumptions used by ICANN in preparing for a subsequent round of new gTLDs.
- Main elements
- ICANN intends to create new operational infrastructure (people, processes, systems) to support the New gTLD Program in a reliable, predictable, and sustainable manner.
- The opening of the next application window for new gTLDs will be dependent on the adoption, by the ICANN Board, of the policy recommendations from the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Working Group.
- Several assumptions that: (1) the application volume, in the next round, will be roughly the same as in the 2012 round: approximately 2 000 applications; (2) there will be no changes to the 1 000 TLDs/year maximum delegation rate; (3) for ongoing subsequent procedures, ICANN assumes an annual application window of one to three months in duration, with subsequent application windows opening during the same timeframe, once per calendar year.
- There will be changes to the programme implementation, based on the preliminary recommendations of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Working Group.
- The programme will continue to operate on a cost-recovery basis; it will be funded from application fees collected.
The first expansions of the DNS
The first gTLDs were created in the 1980s, before ICANN came to life; these included .com, .edu. .gov, .mil, .net, and .org.
ICANN's work on the introduction of new TLDs has been underway since 1999. By mid-1999, Working Group C – entrusted with considering the introduction of new gTLDs – reached a 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. As part of this process, seven new domains were introduced in 2001 and 2002: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro. Among them, .aero, .coop, and .museum are sponsored gTLDs – they have a ‘sponsor organisation’ to which is delegated some defined policy-formulation authority regarding the operation of a particular sponsored TLD. This was the first effort to expand the domain name system since the 1980s, except for adding ccTLDs.
In July 2002, the New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force defined the criteria for the 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 TLDs took place in 2003 and 2004, that led to the introduction of six new sponsored TLDs: .asia, .cat, .jobs, .mobi, .tel, and .travel.
Launching the New gTLD Program
Following the success of these ‘proof of concept’ rounds, ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) – the body responsible for the development of policies concerning gTLDs – took steps to develop a mechanism for applicants to propose new gTLDs. The GNSO requested an issues report, which was published on 5 December 2005 and covered four areas: 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, with its March 2007 Public Policy Principles for New gTLDs.
In August 2007, the GNSO approved a report containing 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 PDP, such as the report of the Internationalised Domain Names Working Group, the report of the Reserved Names Working Group, the report of the Protecting the Rights of Others Working Group, 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 showed 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 gTLD 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 gTLD 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 August 2022, 1241 strings have 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 Program.
Below is 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, 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
- To assist law enforcement authorities in their activities, data regarding the domain names registered in the new gTLDs (i.e. domain name registration 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.
A more comprehensive record of GAC advice on new gTLDs is available on the GAC website.
New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP
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 Program. 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 PDP 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 (SubPro WG), to review and improve, if necessary, the 2007 GNSO’s policy recommendations. The WG is 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 SubPro WG started by analysing the principles and policy recommendations from the 2007 GNSO policy. The aim was to assess if these recommendations still hold 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 ICANN 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 taken place. A list of pros and cons of the creation of new gTLDs has been proposed.
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 the launch of the programme.
- Applications assessed in rounds
This issue stems from one GNSO recommendation 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.
- Different TLD types
In the AGB, 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 TLDs, 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 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 has been discussed by the working group, and a list of pros and cons of establishing restrictions has been elaborated.
Within the WG, several work tracks were established to carry on work on specific sub-sets of issues:
- Work track 1: Overall process, support for applicants, and outreach
The sub-group has been looking into questions such as: How can the Applicant Guidebook be improved to ensure that it meets the needs of multiple audiences? How can the application process avoid developing processes on an as-needed basis? How can the systems used to support the New gTLD Program be made more robust, user-friendly, and better integrated? Should the new gTLD application fee be variable based on such factors as application type, multiple identical applications, etc?
- Work track 2: Legal and regulatory aspects and contractual obligations
The sub-group has been considering issues such as: reviewing the composition of the reserved name list to determine if additions, modification, or subtractions are needed; considering whether the registry/registrar relationship should have additional standardisation and regulation; determining whether there should be restrictions around exclusive use of generic TLDs.
- Work track 3: String contention, objections, and disputes
The scope of work within this track includes issues such as: determining whether string contention evaluation results were consistent and effective in preventing user confusion; examining whether dispute resolution and challenge processes provide adequate redress options or if additional redress options specific to the programme are needed; determining whether the overall process to communities was consistent with recommendations and implementation guidance.
- Work track 4: Internationalised domain names – technical and operational aspects
Issues explored within this track include: evaluating whether rules around IDNs properly accounted for recommendations from IDN WG; determining and addressing policy guidance needed for the implementation of IDN variant TLDs; examining whether financial and technical criteria were designed properly to allow applicants to demonstrate their capabilities while allowing evaluators to validate their capabilities.
- Work track 5: Geographic names at the top-level
This sub-group focused on developing proposed recommendations regarding the treatment of geographic names at the top-level. Its final report addressed to the full WG was published in October 2019.
The SubPro WG published its initial report in July 2018. The report, which was under public consultation until late September 2018, includes a series of preliminary recommendations, options, and questions for community input.
- Some of the recommendations and options outlined in the initial report
- A new phase of the New gTLD Program, once launched, should be subject to a new Predictability Framework, to address issues that arise regarding the introduction of new gTLDs. As part of the Predictability Framework, a Standing Implementation Review Team should be constituted after the publication of the Applicant Guidebook to consider changes in the implementation, execution and/or operations of the New gTLD Program after its launch, and the introduction of any further evaluation guidelines not available to applicants when applications were submitted.
- When substantive/disruptive changes to the AGB or application processing are necessary and made through the Predictability Framework discussed above, there should be a mechanism that allows impacted applicants the opportunity to either (a) request an appropriate refund or (b) be tracked into a parallel process that deals with the discrete issues directly without impacting the rest of the programme.
- The next introduction of new gTLDs should be in the form of a ‘round’. Concerning subsequent introductions of the new gTLDs, the WG generally believes that it should be known before the launch of the next round either (a) the date in which the next introduction of new gTLDs will take place or (b) the specific set of criteria and/or events that must occur before the opening up of the subsequent process.
- Each of the categories recognised by the 2012 AGB, both explicitly and implicitly, should continue to be recognised on a going-forward basis. These include standard TLDs, community-based TLDs, TLDs for which a governmental entity serves as the registry operator, and geographic TLDs. In addition, the WG also recognises that .brand TLDs should also be formally established as a category. The WG did not reach an agreement on adding any additional categories of gTLDs and is asking for community input on whether and what additional categories should be added.
- No limits should be imposed on either the number of gTLD applications in total or the number of applications from any particular entity.
- An AGB of some form should continue to be utilised in future waves of applications. The guidebook should be made more user-friendly.
- Some new generic top-level domains should be IDNs.
- For the next round of new gTLDs, there should continue to be a minimum of four (4) months from the time in which the final AGB is released and the time until which applications would be finally due. There should be a sufficient period of time available prior to the opening of the application submission period to allow for outreach efforts related to applicant support and other programme elements.
- Applicant support should continue to be open to applicants regardless of their location so long as they meet the other criteria. Financial support should go beyond the application fee, such as including application writing fees, related attorney fees, and ICANN registry-level fees. ICANN should consider whether additional funding is required for the next round opening of the Applicant Support Program.
- ICANN should not attempt to create a ‘skills-based’ system like ‘digital archery’ to determine the processing order of applications. ICANN should apply again for an appropriate license to conduct drawings to randomise the order of processing applications.
- When it comes to reserved names, keep all existing registrations at the top level, but add the names of the Public Technical Identifiers, and special-use domain names through the procedure described in IETF Request For Comments 6761. At the second level, keep all existing reservations, but update Schedule 5 to include the measures for letter/letter two-character ASCII labels to avoid confusion with corresponding country codes adopted by the ICANN Board on 8 November 2016.
- Several options emerged as potential paths forward with respect to Closed Generics (a closed generic is a TLD string that is a generic term and is proposed to be operated by a participant exclusively for its own benefit), though the Work Track was not able to settle on any one of them: no Closed Generics; allowing Closed Generics if they serve a public interest goal; allowing Closed Generics but require the applicant to commit to a code of conduct; allowing Closed Generics with no additional conditions but establish an objection process for Closed Generics.
- Include a mechanism to evaluate the risk of name collisions in the TLD evaluation process as well during the transition to delegation phase. Efforts should be undertaken to create a ‘Do Not Apply’ list of TLD strings that pose a substantial name collision risk whereby applications for such strings would not be allowed to be submitted.
- ICANN should create a new substantive appeal mechanism specific to the New gTLD Program. Such an appeals process will not only look into whether ICANN violated the Bylaws by making (or not making) a certain decision, but will also evaluate whether the original action or action was done in accordance with the Applicant Guidebook.
A report summarising the public comments on the WG’s initial report was published by ICANN in November 2018. In the same month, the WG published a supplemental initial report covering topics not addressed in the July 2018 report. This too was open for public comment (until late December 2018). The sub-group on Work track 5: Geographic names at the top-level published its final report addressed to the full WG in October 2019.
Three sub-groups were then formed within the WG to review the public comments submitted on the initial report and the supplemental initial report: Sub Group A, Sub Group B, and Sub Group C. They completed their work in March 2019. The full WG completed its substantial review of the public comments on its initial report and supplemental initial report in November 2019; throughout its work, the group considered the comments received, as well as what changes need to be made to the recommendation to be included in its final report.
Current work and next steps
As at April 2020, the WG is developing and reviewing draft final recommendations on a topic-by-topic basis, taking into consideration the group's review of its summary documents and any additional deliberations that have taken place.
In line with its work plan, the WG intends to finalise its report and publish it for public comments in July 2020. A final report is expected to be submitted to the GNSO no later than 31 December 2020. Meanwhile, the group publishes period updates on the status of its work via its newsletters.
Parallel activities that could impact the work on new gTLDs
There are several ongoing working groups, policy development processes, and other community efforts within ICANN that could influence the discussions on new gTLDs rounds.
Policy development processes
Several ongoing PDPs focus on gTLD-related issues. Examples include:
Policy development process to review all rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) in all gTLDs
- For this PDP, a working group has been chartered to conduct a review of all RPMs in all gTLDs in two phases: Phase One focuses 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 fulfil the purposes for which they were created, or whether additional policy recommendations are needed.
Policy development process for IGO & INGO access to curative rights protection mechanisms
- The working group associated with this PDP is tasked with developing policy recommendations regarding whether to amend the UDRP and the Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) procedure to allow access to and use of these mechanisms by intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs).
Expedited policy development process for the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data
- The team created for this PDP is tasked to determine if the Temporary Specification for gTLD Registration Data should become an ICANN Consensus Policy, as is or with modifications, while complying with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other relevant privacy and data protection laws. The Temporary Specification, adopted by the ICANN Board in May 2018, introduced modifications to the Registrar Accreditation and Registry Agreements to help bring them in line with the GDPR.
The GAC has formed working groups on several topics that are of relevance for ICANN’s work on subsequent new gTLD rounds:
- Focal Group on Subsequent Rounds of New gTLDs, formed in June 2019 ‘to build capacity within the GAC and potentially consider policy input into discussions of subsequent rounds of New gTLDs’.
- Working Group to Examine the Protection of Geographic Names in Any Future Expansion of gTLDs. The group focuses on reviewing and considering any necessary improvements to the existing protections offered to geographic names.
- Working Group on 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 Working Group. 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 the 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.
Work conducted by the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) that could have an influence on the ongoing discussions on new gTLD rounds cover issues such as root scaling, DNS abuse, and name collision.
For example, in a letter sent to ICANN’s Global Domains Division in August 2019, SSAC reiterated its concern that ‘the last round of new gTLDs appears to have introduced the phenomenon of TLDs with exceptionally high rates of abusive registrations’ and that ‘a further round of new gTLDs could be delegated prior to comprehensive metrics and mitigations being put in place to prevent such a recurrence’.
To help you navigate this page, we have put together a list of acronyms used throughout the content.