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.
- 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