ICANN Will Release 2-Character New gTLD Domain Names

icannDuring ICANN 51 in Los Angeles on the 16th of October the ICANN Board decided the introduction of 2-character domain names in the New gTLD namespace.

ICANN decided that the proposed registry service for the release of two-character domains in the gTLD namespace does not create a reasonable risk of a meaningful adverse effect on security and stability, and the Board authorizes the President and CEO, or his designee(s), to develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement, taking into account the GAC‘s advice in the Los Angeles Communiqué.

It is not clear if all 2-character domains will be released.

Why is the Board addressing the issue?

Section 2 of Specification 5 (Schedule of Reserved Names) of the New gTLD Registry Agreement addresses reservations of two-character labels as follows:

All two-character ASCII labels shall be withheld from registration or allocated to Registry Operator at the second level within the TLD. Such labels may not be activated in the DNS, and may not be released for registration to any person or entity other than Registry Operator, provided that such two-character label strings may be released to the extent that Registry Operator reaches agreement with the related government and country-code manager of the string as specified in the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 standard. The Registry Operator may also propose the release of these reservations based on its implementation of measures to avoid confusion with the corresponding country codes, subject to approval by ICANN.

In January 2014, New gTLD Registry Operators began submitting requests to ICANN through the Registry Services Evaluation Policy (RSEP) process proposing to implement a new registry service to release certain two-character domain names required to be reserved by the New gTLD Registry Agreement. The implementation of the proposals would require an amendment to the Exhibit A of the respective Registry Agreements. The proposed amendments to implement the new registry service were the subject of public comment periods over the past several months. In total, ICANN has posted 28 RSEP proposals and amendments, which concern a total of 203 New gTLDs. ICANN continues to receive additional RSEP requests on a weekly basis for the same Registry Service.

Pursuant to Section 2.4.D of the RSEP and the RSEP Implementation Notes, if the implementation of a proposed service requires a material change to the Registry Agreement, the preliminary determination will be referred to the ICANN Board for consideration.

What is the proposal being considered?

The Board is taking action at this time to direct the President and CEO to develop and implement an efficient process to permit the release of two-characters names in New gTLDs, taking into account the GAC‘s advice in the Los Angeles Communiqué.

Which stakeholders or others were consulted?

As of 24 September 2014, ICANN staff initiated five (5) public comment forums to obtain feedback from the community on the amendments to implement the proposed new registry service: 12 June 2014 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/two-char-new-gtld-2014-06-12-en>; 8 July 2014 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/two-char-new-gtld-2014-07-08-en>; 23 July 2014 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/two-char-new-gtld-2014-07-23-en>; 19 August 2014 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/two-char-new-gtld-2014-08-19-en>; and 12 September 2014 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/two-char-new-gtld-2014-09-12-en>. Various members of the community submitted comments, including the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and registry operators.

In addition, ICANN notified the GAC when each request from a registry operator was posted for public comment.

What concerns or issues were raised by the community?

There were several comments received during the public comment period indicating a series of arguments in favor of, or in opposition to, the general release of certain two-character names in the new gTLD namespace. The majority of the comments received were in favor for the release of the two character domain names.

The arguments made in opposition to the release of the two character domain names expressed two general concerns. The first concern is related to the general recognition and associated use of the two character domain names leading to user confusion or abuse. The second concern is how to specifically protect ccTLDs when country and territory names are newly formed.

Public comments received so far are overwhelmingly in favor of the introduction of two-character domain names in the new gTLD namespace. The arguments made in favor to the release of the two-character domain names were as follows:

  • The introduction of two character domain names would increase competition since the current restrictions hinder competition, in particular for the New gTLDs which are competing with legacy TLDs (delegated prior to the 2012 New gTLD application round) who are allowed to offer such registrations. The current restrictions to the New gTLD Registry Operators create a discriminatory situation which is contrary to the ICANN Bylaws Article II, Section 3 which provide for Non-Discriminatory Treatment of ICANN stakeholders.
  • The introduction of two-character domain names poses a limited risk of confusion, or no risk at all, as demonstrated by prior use of two character domain names in existing TLDs.
  • The release of certain types of two character domain names to include at least one digit or number, would not cause concern and may be considered for release.
  • The release of two-character domain names would provide opportunities for companies and brands to have tailored segmented domain names to connect with the public as well as provide localized content, thus expanding consumer choice and driving economic growth, in particular in developing countries.
  • The proposed registry service does not conflict with the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPM) requirements document.
  • There is uniform precedent regarding the release of two-character domain name in the history of relevant RSEP requests.
  • The release of country codes and names is allowed by the Applicant Guidebook.

The GAC has also raised some concerns about the release of certain two-character domain names (i.e. letter/letter combinations). In its 27 March 2014 Singapore Communiqué, the GAC discussed the Brand Registry Group proposal for a streamlined process under an addendum to the Registry Agreement for the approval of country names and two letter and character codes at the second level. The GAC stated, “While the GAC has no major concerns about brand owners seeking approval for such names, but that this approval should be done directly with the countries concerned rather than through a GAC level operational process.” The GAC reported that individual GAC members could assist with proposals relevant to their particular country if requested. The GAC suggested that consideration be given to establishing a register of countries that do not require individual requests to be made.

Subsequently, in its Los Angeles Communiqué, the GAC noted it was “not in a position to offer consensus advice on the use of two-character second level domain names in new gTLD operations, including those combinations of letters that are also on the ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 list.” The GAC also noted that, “[i]n considering these RSEP requests, and consistent with the Applicant Guidebook, the GAC considers that the public comment period is an important transparency mechanism, and in addition asks that relevant governments be alerted by ICANN about these requests as they arise.” The Board’s action today takes into account the GAC‘s input on the release of two-character domains.

What significant materials did the Board review? What factors did the Board find to be significant?

The Board reviewed several materials and also considered several significant factors during its deliberations about whether or not to approve the request. The significant materials and factors that the Board considered as part of its deliberations, included, but are not limited to the following:

Are there positive or negative community impacts? Are there fiscal impacts or ramifications on ICANN (strategic plan, operating plan, budget); the community, and/or public? Are there any security, stability or resiliency issues relating to the DNS?

The overall impact on the community is anticipated to be positive as new opportunities for diversification and competition in the gTLD namespace are created, while no specific risk of user confusion has been identified.

The eventual implementation of this Registry Service may have a fiscal impact on ICANN, the community or the public, as there may be additional costs associated with the broader implications of this Registry Service.

As determined by the ICANN Registry Services Technical Evaluation Panel in a 4 December 2006 report on proposed release of two-character domains in the .name gTLD, such a service does not create a reasonable risk of a meaningful adverse effect on security and stability.

Is this either a defined policy process within ICANN‘s Supporting Organization or ICANN‘s Organizational Administrative Function decision requiring public comment or not requiring public comment?

The Registry Services Evaluation Policy is an ICANN consensus policy, effective as of 15 August 2006. Consistent with the policy, ICANN posted the Registry Agreement amendments for public comment as the implementation of the proposed service required what was then considered a material change to the Registry Agreement. Following today’s resolution, future RSEP proposals requesting the release of two-characters names composed letter/number or number/number combinations will not be considered as requiring a material change to the Registry Agreement.

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About Konstantinos Zournas

Konstantinos studied Computer Engineering and Computer Science in London and lives in Athens, Greece. He works on domain names, websites and software development. Has been online since 1995 & domaining since 2002.

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