Governments and ccTLD registries would get new rights to own two-letter domains in new gTLDs under a proposed ICANN policy.
These highly-prized domains, many of which are likely worth thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, would be subject to a mini sunrise period, under the proposal.
The so-called Exclusive Availability Pre-registration Period would be limited to those companies or government entities in charge of matching ccTLDs.
The measures are outlined in “Proposed Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes” (pdf), published by ICANN late last week.
The surprisingly succinct document outlines three things new gTLD registries must do if they want to start selling two-letter domains matching ccTLDs, which are currently restricted.
The key measure is:
Registry Operator must implement a 30-day period in which registration of letter/letter two-character ASCII labels that are country codes, as specified in the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 standard, will be made exclusively available to the applicable country-code manager or government.
In other words, if you’re a government or company listed as the ccTLD manager here, you get 30 days of exclusive opportunity to buy the LL.example matching your ccTLD.
Until now, governments have been able to block the release of LL new gTLD domains matching their ccTLDs.
The new proposal, introduced in an attempt to settle a long-running debate about the most appropriate way to enable the release of two-character strings, appears to add a “buy it or lose it” component to existing policy.
Under the base New gTLD Registry Agreement, all two-character domains were initially reserved.
Then, in late 2014, ICANN said registries could release all letter-number, number-letter and number-number combinations.
Many registries have already released such names, some selling for thousands at auction. When Rightside released its LN/NL/NN names, some carried price tags as high as $50,000.
Letter-letter domains could also be released following a formal registry request to ICANN, but were subject to a 60-day period during which governments could object.
Almost 1,000 new gTLDs have submitted such requests, and almost all have been “partially approved”.
That means some governments objected to the release of ccTLD-matching domains. Over 16,000 unique domain names have been objected to and therefore blocked over the last year or so.
The new proposal would add an extra process under which these blocked domains could be released, with ccTLD concerns getting first rights.
Interestingly, it appears to bring ccTLD managers into the mix, rather than restricting the names simply to governments.
The Governmental Advisory Committee has been the main driving force behind demands for restrictions on LL domains, but the proposed policy appears to also extend rights to private entities.
Remember, many ccTLDs are operated independently by private companies, without local government oversight.
For example, .uk is managed by Nominet, a non-governmental entity. The UK government has blocked many uk.example domains from being registered. The new policy appears to allow either Nominet or the government to register these names.
The one-page proposal is light on some details. It does not say, for example, what happens when the government and the ccTLD manager both want the name.
In keeping with ICANN’s habit of staying out of pricing, it does not specify price caps either.
It does, however, oblige registries to ban registrants from pretending to be affiliated with the relevant government when they are not.
Governments also get to complain, and registries have to investigate, if the relevant domains are causing “confusion”, though registries do not appear to be under a strict obligation to delete or suspend domains.
The policy is open for public comment until August here.