ICANN’s New Program Adds Hundreds of Domains, More to Come?

by Ifrah PLLC
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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) continues to make significant progress with its implementation of the New generic Top–Level Domain (gTLD) Program. Under the new program, ICANN has added more than 250 new gTLDs to the Domain Name System (DNS) and could add hundreds more in the next several years.

ICANN is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1998 to coordinate the internet’s address system, promote competition in the domain–name space, and ensure the security and stability of the Domain Name System. Back then, there were a dozen or so Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs) and just eight gTLDs, including the most common top–level domains: .com, .edu, .mil, .net, and .org. As the internet grew, so did the demand for top–level domains. ICANN responded by hosting two gTLD application rounds in 2000 and 2003. Those trial rounds resulted in ICANN’s delegation of 15 new gTLDs and laid the groundwork for greater expansion under the New gTLD Program.

The New gTLD program evolved in two phases: the policy development phase and the implementation phase. The policy development phase was overseen by one of ICANN’s supporting organizations, the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO).For two years, GNSO sought input from various constituencies in ICANN’s global internet community, including government, business, technology, and intellectual–property stakeholders. Participants submitted comments on a range of topics, such as the demand for gTLDs, associated risks and benefits, selection criteria, and allocation. As a result of that process, GNSO issued a set of policy recommendations for implementing the New gTLD Program, and ICANN adopted them in June 2008.

During the subsequent implementation phase, ICANN worked with stakeholders to establish consensus on the application, evaluation and delegation process for the New gTLD Program. Drafts of an Applicant Guidebook were released for public comment and revised to address stakeholder concerns over the protection of intellectual property and community interests, consumer protection, and DNS stability. In June 2011, the ICANN Board adopted the Applicant Guidebook and launched the New gTLD Program.

During the four–month application period, ICANN received 1,930 applications for new generic Top Level Domains. These included submissions from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa. More than 100 applications were first–time requests for Top-Level Domains in non–Latin scripts, including Chinese, Greek and the Indian alphabet, Devanagari.

ICANN has already completed its initial evaluation of the submissions. Approved applications are now moving toward “delegation” on a rolling basis. Each applicant must finalize and execute the required contract with ICANN. Then, the applicant must undergo pre–delegation testing. If the applicant meets the relevant technical requirements, ICANN “delegates” the new gTLD by adding it to the root zone database and turning over management of related domain–name registrations to the new registry operator. After that, the registry operator is free to sell second–level domain names under the new gTLD.

As mentioned, ICANN has already delegated more than 250 new gTLDs, with hundreds more to follow. In April alone, the organization delegated more than 50 new gTLDs.

If the expansion “transform[s] the way people use the Internet,” as ICANN hopes, the impacts will probably be most profound for the non–English speaking world. Indeed, it seems difficult to overstate the New gTLD Program’s transformative potential given ICANN’s addition of gTLDs comprising at least twelve non-Latin scripts. If the rollout continues as expected, millions of people who speak Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, and Russian, will—for the first time—be able to use the internet in their native language.

For a current list of approved gTLDs, visit ICANN’s website.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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