ICANN Approves Historic Plan for New Top Level Domains


At its meeting in Singapore this week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved a historic plan to allow unlimited numbers of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to join the ranks of .com, .org, .net, and .biz. Currently, there are only 22 such gTLDs plus the country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .us and .ca (Canada).

Top level domains are the string of letters that come immediately after the last period in a domain name. Originally, there were only eight gTLDs, the most common of which is .com. New gTLDs were approved by ICANN in 2000 and 2004, including .mobi, .tel and .info. However, this is the first time that private companies, institutions and organizations will be allowed to establish their own gTLDs. (ICANN will not accept applications from individuals.)

Under the new gTLD program, entities can register and control the gTLD for generic words such as .radio, .music or .birds, or for company names or trademarks, such as .microsoft. For the first time, ICANN is also going to allow applications for Internationalized Domain Names or IDNs, consisting of non-Latin characters such as Arabic or Chinese, and including accent marks on Latin letters as used in various European languages. There are a few restrictions on what can be registered: new gTLDs must consist of at least three letters (except for non-Latin character gTLDs, the minimum is two letters) but no more than 63 letters; they cannot include numbers; they cannot be confusingly similar to existing gTLDs; and they cannot be the name of a geographic place, unless applied for by the relevant governmental or other public authority.

The owner of the new gTLD will also operate the domain name registry for the gTLD, meaning that it will control the process of registering the second-level domain names (the letters to the left of the period, e.g., rock.music or rollingstones.music) associated with the gTLD. The owner will also have to maintain the security and stability of all domain names within that gTLD, and operate the “whois” database containing contact information for registrants of second-level domain names.

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