A Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) is an internet domain name extension with three or more characters. It is one of the categories of the top level domain (TLD) in the Domain Name System (DNS) maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. There are currently 21 gTLDs in the root zone of the Internet and they are categorized as:
- generic (.com, .info, .net, .org), which can be used for general purposes;
- sponsored (.aero, .asia, .cat, .coop, .edu, .gov, .int, .jobs, .mil, .mobi, .tel, .travel, and .xxx), which can only be used by entities engaged within the specific industry;
- generic restricted (.biz, .name, .pro), which can be use only for their specified purposes and
- infrastructure (.arpa), which is exclusively used to support operationally-critical infrastructural identifier spaces and it is operated by IANA.
The gTLDs are managed and operated either by their sponsoring organization and or a registry operator approved by ICANN.
In 1984, Jon Postel and Joyce Reynolds published RFC 920, which proposed the introduction of top level domain names (TLDs) in the root zone of the Internet. RFC 920 also described the categories and general purposes of the suggested initial TLDs, which were: .arpa (temporary and intended for the transition from ARPANET to the Internet), .gov (government), .edu (education), .com (commercial), .mil (military), .org (organization), and the two-letter codes (alpha-2) for countries listed in the ISO-3166-1. On January 1985, these initial TLDs, plus .net, were implemented in the root zone. The .gov and .mil gTLDs were restricted for the United States government and military use only, while .edu, .com, .org and .net were open for registration. In 1988, .int was introduced by IANA for international organizations established by treaties.
The original TLDs were managed and administered by the Network Information Center, the first assigned registrar responsible for hosting and registering domain names. NIC was operated by SRI International.
In 1994, Postel released RFC 1591, which explained the structure of the DNS, including TLDs, and specified that the original TLDs (.com, .edu, .gov .mil, .net, .org and .int) were categorized as generic top level domains (gTLDs), and were a separate category from the two-letter ISO-3166 country codes. It was mentioned in the RFC that the introduction of new TLDs would be unlikely.
On July 1, 1997, President Bill Clinton instructed the Department of Commerce to improve the operations of the Internet by transferring the technical management of the DNS to a private organization that would be responsible for increasing competition and encouraging international participation in the domain name industry. The directive was part of the Clinton Administration's Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. The following day, a Request For Comment (RFC) was released by the National Telecommunication Information Administration (NTIA) for the public to submit their comments and recommendations regarding the government plan. The NTIA received 430 comments from the Internet community. On January 30, 1998, the Green Paper was released, stating that a majority of the internet community had expressed their dissatisfaction in the management of the DNS and preferred a new private organization to handle the technical management of the DNS. Additionally, the Internet community also recommended the creation of new gTLDs. Based on the Green Paper, the new corporation would maintain DNS stability, competition, private bottom-up coordination, and representation as its guiding principles.
By April 1998, the White Paper was released by the Department of Commerce, calling for the creation of a new, independent, private, non-profit corporation to take over the technical management of the DNS from the U.S. government. Subsequently, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Named and Numbers was created on October 1998. Since ICANN's establishment, one of the its main activities has been to focus on the introduction of new generic top level domains. In 1999, the ICANN Board delegated the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO) to gather a public consensus regarding the issue. In response, the DNSO created Working Group C to prepare proposals for the introduction of new gTLDs. By October of 1999, Working Group C presented 7 position papers.
First Round: New gTLD Expansion
Recommendation for the Introduction of New GTLDs
On April 2000, the DNSO recommended that the ICANN Board establish a policy for the introduction of new gTLDs. In addition, the DNSO also suggested that ICANN invite interested entities to submit their expressions of interest to become registry operators for new gTLDs.
Thousands of comments regarding the introduction of new gTLDs were received by the ICANN Board through the ICANN Public Comment Forum. Following the results of the public comment, the ICANN Board decided to establish a policy for the introduction of new gTLDs. The ICANN Board set up a schedule for the submission, acceptance, and evaluation of proposals to operate or sponsor a new gTLD, with a non-refundable application fee of $50,000.
ICANN Criteria for Assessing gTLD Proposals
On August 15, 2000, the ICANN Board issued the Criteria for Assessing the TLD Proposals, expressing:
- The need to maintain the Internet's stability.
- The extent to which selection of the proposal would lead to an effective "proof of concept" concerning the introduction of top-level domains in the future.
- The enhancement of competition for registration services.
- The enhancement of the utility of the DNS.
- The extent to which the proposal would meet previously unmet needs.
- The extent to which the proposal would enhance the diversity of the DNS and of registration services generally.
- The evaluation of delegation of policy-formulation functions for special-purpose TLDs to appropriate organizations.
- Appropriate protections of rights of others in connection with the operation of a TLD.
- The completeness of the proposals submitted and the extent to which they demonstrate realistic business, financial, technical, and operational plans and sound analysis of market needs.
The TLD Application Process: Information for Applicants was also released on the same date.
ICANN Selects Seven New gTLDs
ICANN received more than 40 applications. On November 16, 2000, the ICANN Board conducted discussion and open forum regarding the applications for new gTLD, which was open for an entire day. After an extensive evaluation, the ICANN Board selected seven new gTLDs: .biz (JVTeam), .info (Afilias), .name (Global Name Registry), .pro (RegistryPro), .museum (Museum Domain Management Association), .aero (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques), and .coop (Cooperative League of the USA). Authority to enter negotiations with the sponsors for these new gTLDs was given to the ICANN President and General Counsel.
On May 11, 2001, ICANN signed the .biz and .info Registry Agreements. The .name Registry agreement was approved on August 1, 2001; .museum was signed on October 17, 2001; .coop was signed November 21, 2001; .aero was signed on December 17, 2001; and the .pro registry agreement was approved on March 14, 2002.
Second Round: New gTLD Expansion
The New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force (NTEPPTF) Report
During the ICANN Stockholm Meeting in 2001, the Board directed ICANN President Stuart Lynn to form and chair a New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force (NTEPPTF) to monitor and evaluate the performance and impact on new gTLDs on the DNS, focusing on technical and legal perspectives. By June of 2002, the NTEPPTF submitted its report and made the following recommendations to the ICANN Board:
- Establish a continuous monitoring program for the new gTLDs, focusing the evaluation on the effects of the TLDs on the performance of the root zone, the identification of operational performance problems affecting the stability of the DNS, the accuracy and completion of Whois data, and the start-up issues during sunrise and landrush periods.
- The ICANN Board should adopt the evaluation schedule arranged by the Task Force.
- ICANN Board should determine a time frame and process for the launch of new gTLDs.
- A TLD Evaluation Advisory Committee (TEAC) should be appointed by ICANN to provide the overall coordination and guidance for the evaluation team, which should be supervised by the ICANN Staff.
- Provide adequate funds for the evaluation process.
- Identify to what extent ICANN can initiate the planning and solicitation of proposals for new gTLDs in conjunction with the evaluation and monitoring process.
Subsequently on August 23, 2002, the ICANN Board directed ICANN President Lynn to create an action plan regarding the NTEPPTF report.
A Plan of Action regarding New gTLDs
On October 18, 2002, Lynn submitted a Plan of Action regarding new gTLDs, recommending the following:
- Instruct the ICANN Staff to solicit three or more proposals for sponsored TLDs (sTLDs) as extension of the Proof of Concept, following a similar or streamlined criteria and ground rules, subject to funding a rapid study based on sampling techniques as appropriate. The study will assess if the new sponsored TLDs admitted registrants outside their charter and determine to what extent.
- The issue of name space taxonomy should be addressed as a prerequisite to substantive expansion of the top level domain space, regardless of an interim action on additional sponsored TLDs.
- Those applicants who submitted their proposals for new sponsored TLDs in 2000 should be invited to update and resubmit their proposals. New sponsored TLD proposals will also be accepted.
- Cost allocation for the application fee should be assessed to exercise fairness. There should also be a differential fee for those who have already paid the $50,000 application fee in year 2000 and have already been subjected to evaluation.
- The independent and financial evaluation process should be simplified, particularly the review of financial capacity, in order to accelerate the process and reduce cost.
- Use the existing contractual framework for the new sponsored TLDs.
Sponsored TLDs Application Process
On June 23, 2003, ICANN released the Request For Proposal (RFP) for the establishment of new sponsored top level domain names. The RFP emphasized that the requirements for operating a new sTLD are rigorous and only applicants with high qualifications that meet or exceed the selection criteria will be accepted. An additional $25,000 would be required on top of the $50,000 application fee for those whose applications were already evaluated in 2000.
Evaluation Methodology and Selection Criteria
Based on the Evaluation Methodology and Selection Criteria released by ICANN on June 23, 2003, external consultants would evaluate the applications for new sTLDs. The ICANN Staff would not participate in the evaluation process, but would assist the consultants in compiling, synthesizing, and tabulating information to be reviewed by the ICANN Board. The criteria for selecting new sTLDs included:
A. Applicants should provide evidence of ability to ensure stable registry operation.
- provide a detailed business plan to ensure satisfactory continuation of registry operation
- ensure that the chosen registry operator will conform to high standards in technical operation of the new sTLD registry
- provide a full range of registry services
- ensure continuity of registry operation in the event of business failure of the proposed registry
B. Conform to requirements of sponsored TLD
- provide precise definition of Sponsored TLD Community (determine the persons and entities within the community)
- appropriateness of the Sponsoring Organization and the policy formulation environment
- responsiveness to Sponsored TLD Community
- demonstrate a large base of support from community
C. Add new value to the DNS
- value of name
- enhanced diversity of the DNS
D. Reach and enrich broad global communities
- demographic reach
- global reach and accessibility
E. Protect the rights of others
- assurance of charter-compliant registrations and avoidance of abusive registration practices
- assurance of adequate dispute-resolution mechanisms
- provision of ICANN-policy compliant Whois service
F. Provide complete and well-structured applications
ICANN Added 8 New sTLDs
After extensively evaluating the applications for new sTLDs, the ICANN Board approved 8 strings to be added in the root zone of the DNS which include:
- .asia - DotAsia Organization Limited - Registry Agreement was signed on December 6, 2006
- .cat - puntCAT (Catalonia Private Foundation) - Registry Agreement signed on September 23, 2005
- .jobs - Employ Media LLC- Registry Agreement signed May 5, 2005 
- .mobi - mTLD Top Level Domain Ltd., (Afilias) - Registry Agreement signed July 10, 2005 
- .tel - TelNic Limited - Registry Agreement signed May 30, 2006 
- .travel - Tralliance - Registry Agreement signed May 5, 2005 
- .post - Universal Postal Union - Registry Agreement signed Decemebr 11, 2009 
- .xxx - ICM Registry - Registry Agreement signed March 31, 2011 
Third Round: New gTLD Program
- Main Article: New gTLD Program
After the results of the 2000 and 2003 expansion of new gTLDs, a Policy Development Process in connection with the introduction of new gTLDs was developed by the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), which lasted from 2005 until 2007. During this Policy Development Process, the GNSO conducted extensive and detailed consultations with all constituencies within the ICANN global internet community. In 2008, 19 Specific Policy Recommendations were adopted by the ICANN Board for the implementation of new gTLDs, which describe the specifics of allocation and the contractual conditions. ICANN involved the global internet community in an open, inclusive and transparent implementation process to comment, review and provide their input toward creating the Applicant Guidebook for New gTLDs. The protection of intellectual property, community interests, consumer protection, and DNS stability were addressed during the process. Different versions and multiple drafts of the Applicant Guidebook were released in 2008. By June 2011, the ICANN Board launched the New gTLD Program, at the same time approving the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook.
Closed Generic Strings
After ICANN published information on its 1,930 applications in the third round of gTLD expansion ("The New gTLD Program") it was immediately noted that some companies had applied for a number of generic terms relevant to their business, writing in their applications that they intended to be the sole registrant for the TLD. There was no Brand TLD distinction in this round, though there were guesses that ICANN would create rules for such TLDs in any future round. Thus, the closed generic terms violated no rules as developed through the GNSO process and as included in the Applicant Guidebook. Some noted that this was in fact an intentional byproduct of the program that had been considered while others disagreed.
In September, 2012, an influential consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Rockefeller, who is the chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Sen. Rockefeller's senate subcommittee is the same that had held hearings regarding ICANN and its new gTLD program just before its launch. Consumer Watchdog is upset over both Google and Amazon's plans to acquire generic TLDs and then to restrict them only for their own use. The letter states: "If these applications are granted, large parts of the Internet would be privatized. It is one thing to own a domain associated with your brand, but it is a huge problem to take control of generic strings. Both Google and Amazon are already dominant players on the Internet. Allowing them further control by buying generic domain strings would threaten the free and open Internet that consumers rely upon. Consumer Watchdog urges you to do all that you can to thwart these outrageous efforts and ensure that the Internet continues its vibrant growth while serving the interests of all of its users." The whole letter can be seen here.
This letter came just a day after a similar appeal by a group of domain industry regulars was announced. Michele Neylon, CEO of Blacknight Internet Solutions Ltd and a highly active member of the ICANN community, led the signatories of a letter adressing the same issue, though it does not name Google nor Amazon by name. Instead it focuses on any and all use of generic terms that are being sought after only to become closed TLDs: "generic words used in a generic way belong to all people. It is inherently in the public interest to allow access to generic new gTLDs to the whole of the Internet Community, e.g., .BLOG, .MUSIC, .CLOUD. Allowing everyone to register and use second level domain names of these powerful, generic TLDs is exactly what we envisioned the New gTLD Program would do. In contrast, to allow individual Registry Operators to segregate and close-off common words for which they do not possess intellectual property rights in effect allows them to circumvent nation-states’ entrenched legal processes for obtaining legitimate and recognized trademark protections." Other signatories include: Scott Pinzon, former Director of ICANN; Kelly Hardy, domain industry consultant; Frédéric Guillemaut, MailClub.fr; Robert Birkner, 1API GmbH; the whole letter can be seen here. Blacknight continued to lead public awareness campaigns against closed generics into 2013, when the ICANN Board requested a public comment period on the issue.
The largest applicant for closed gTLDs is Amazon, and many worried that their applications to control a large number of generic terms would result in them circumnavigating traditional navigation for shopping online and give them an unfair competitive advantage. Other notable portfolio applicants with multiple applications for closed generic terms include L'Oréal and Google. In late 2012, Amazon and other companies that applied for closed-generic strings received a GAC Early Warning from GAC Chair, Heather Dryden. The early warning system is the work of an individual GAC member but signals that the larger GAC organization may later issue official advice recommending the rejection of the TLD application as-is by the ICANN Board. Those applicants that receive warnings are encouraged to work with the objecting representative. The German representative also raised issues with regards to closed generics.
Following further questions, ICANN's New gTLD Program Committee looked at the issue. Information on their January meeting that was released in February 2013 shows that they were unclear how to even define a closed generic, what its common attributes are, what an appropriate remediation strategy would be, and they further note that there is no violation taking place between the applications and the Applicant Guidebook, and therefore have no room to comment or change policy without further direction from a policy development process started in the GNSO. Still, they opened up a public comment period on February 5th, 2013, to ascertain opinions on what a closed generic is, and what the criteria are for when a proposed registry can operate a "closed" or "open" string.
In mid-February 2013, it was announced that an applicant represented by industry lawyer Philip Corwin would be contacting and lobbying lawmakers in Washington and Brussels, or raising litigation, against Google. The applicant in question remains unknown though it is in contention with Google for at least one TLD. It is not in contention with Amazon, which has in fact applied for many more closed TLDs than Google. The issue at hand is the competition advantage that Google has given its search dominance and its ownership of sites such as youtube. Therefore, its applications for .film, .movie, .mov, .live, .show and .tube could all be used to create further market dominance within the online video and content streaming markets.
In early March, 2013, Google announced via public comments ICANN held on the Closed Generic issue that it would no longer be seeking to close off any of its generic applications, and specifically noted the offending applications, .app, .blog, .cloud and .search. It noted that it planned to affect these changes through amendments to its applications.
IO on Closed Generics
ICANN's Independent Objector, responsible for impartially determining danger done to the large community of Internet end users via particular applications, weighed in on the issue of closed generic applications. The IO notes that he was petitioned directly by a number of parties to file objections to these strings, but that he decided not to do so. Reasons for this include; the fact that sometimes generic terms are created from brand or trademarked names, and vice versa; that his powers and scope are intentionally limited and restricted to community objections and those related to limited public interest, and there is little ground for either as closed generics are not strictly a discussion of freedom of expression and generic terms are by definition broad and do not apply to a singular community.
- ↑ IANA Root Zone Data Base
- ↑ RFC 920
- ↑ IANA Report
- ↑ SRI's Role in Assigning Top-Level Domain Names and Managing the Network Information Center
- ↑ RFC 1591
- ↑ Improvement of Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses; Proposed Rule
- ↑ Management of Internet Names and Addresses
- ↑ Proposal for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
- ↑ Group C-new gTLDs Interim Report, October 23th, 1999
- ↑ DNSO Names Council Statement on new gTLDs
- ↑ ICANN Yokohama Meeting Topic: Introduction of New Top-Level Domains
- ↑ Introduction of New Top-Level Domains
- ↑ Regular Meeting of the Board Minutes-New Top Level Domains
- ↑ Criteria for Assessing the TLD Proposals
- ↑ TLD Application Process: Information for Applicants
- ↑ Second Annual Meeting and Organizational Meeting of the ICANN Board Preliminary Report
- ↑ IANA Report on .biz and .info
- ↑ IANA Report .name
- ↑ IANA Report.museum
- ↑ IANA Report .coop
- ↑ IANA Report .aero
- ↑ IANA Report .pro
- ↑ Draft of Final Report of the New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force
- ↑ 2002-08-23 - New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force
- ↑ A Plan of Action regarding New gTLDs by Stuart Lynn, ICANN President
- ↑ Establishment of new sTLDs: Request for Proposals
- ↑ Evaluation Methodology and Selection Criteria
- ↑ Registry Agreement
- ↑ .cat TLD Sponsorship Agreement
- ↑ .jobs Registry Agreement
- ↑ .mobi TLD Sponsorship Agreement
- ↑ .tel Registry Agreement
- ↑ .travel Sponsored TLD Registry Agreement
- ↑ .POST Sponsored TLD Agreement
- ↑ .XXX Registry Agreement
- ↑ About the New gTLD Program
- ↑ User Summary, AM
- ↑ Consumer Watchdog Slams Outrageous Google and Amazon Keyword gTLD bids, DomainIncite.com
- ↑ Blacknight Urges ICANN to reconsider, Blog.Blacknight.com Retrieved 18 Feb 2013
- ↑ 40.0 40.1 WorldTrademarkReview.com
- ↑ The gTLD Land Grab Controversy Google Amazon and the GAC Part II, Name.com Pub 14 Jan 2013, Retrieved 6 Jan 2013
- ↑ GAC Early Warnings, GACweb.ICANN.org
- ↑ Announcement, ICANN.org5 February 2013
- ↑ Microsoft is Latest to Come Out Against Closed Generic New gTLDs in Letter to ICANN, TheDomains.com Published and Retrieved 6 Feb 2013
- ↑ Mystery gTLD Applicant to Take Googe Fight to Lawmakers, DomainIncite.com Published 13 Feb 2013, Retrieved 14 Feb 2013
- ↑ Google Bows to Pressure on Closed Generics, CircleID.com Retrieved March 8th 2013
- ↑ The Issue of Closed Generic gTLDs, Independent-Objector-NewgTLDs.org Retrieved 14 Mar 2013