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ICANN Resolutions » Two-Character Domain Names in the New gTLD Namespace

Important note: The Board Resolutions are as reported in the Board Meeting Transcripts, Minutes & Resolutions portion of ICANN's website. Only the words contained in the Resolutions themselves represent the official acts of the Board. The explanatory text provided through this database (including the summary, implementation actions, identification of related resolutions, and additional information) is an interpretation or an explanation that has no official authority and does not represent the purpose behind the Board actions, nor does any explanations or interpretations modify or override the Resolutions themselves. Resolutions can only be modified through further act of the ICANN Board.

Two-Character Domain Names in the New gTLD Namespace


Resolution of the ICANN Board
Meeting Date: 
Tue, 8 Nov 2016
Resolution Number: 
2016.11.08.15
Resolution Text: 

Whereas, Specification 5, Section 2 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement requires registry operators to reserve two-character ASCII labels within the TLD at the second level. The reserved two-character labels “may be released to the extent that Registry Operator reaches agreement with the related government and country-code manager of the string as specified in the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 standard. The Registry Operator may also propose the release of these reservations based on its implementation of measures to avoid confusion with the corresponding country codes, subject to approval by ICANN.”

Whereas, the GAC has issued advice to the Board in various communiqués on two-character domains. The Los Angeles Communiqué (15 October 2014) stated, “The GAC recognized that two-character second level domain names are in wide use across existing TLDs, and have not been the cause of any security, stability, technical or competition concerns. The GAC is not in a position to offer consensus advice on the use of two-character second level domains names in new gTLD registry operations, including those combinations of letters that are also on the ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 list.” The GAC also issued advice in the Singapore Communiqué (11 February 2015) and the Dublin Communiqué (21 October 2015).

Whereas, on 16 October 2014, the Board directed ICANN to develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement, taking into account the GAC’s advice in the Los Angeles Communiqué on the matter. ICANN launched this procedure (the “Authorization Process”) on 1 December 2014.

Whereas, as part of the Authorization Process, ICANN launched a community consultation process to help develop a standard set of proposed measures to avoid confusion with country codes. The measures were intended to be mandatory for new gTLD registries seeking to release reserved letter/letter two-character labels.

Whereas, in the GAC’s Helsinki Communiqué (30 June 2016), the GAC advised the Board to “urge the relevant Registry or the Registrar to engage with the relevant GAC members when a risk is identified in order to come to an agreement on how to manage it or to have a third-party assessment of the situation if the name is already registered.” The advice was incorporated in the proposed measures to avoid confusion.

Whereas, on 8 July 2016, ICANN published for public comment the Proposed Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes, which listed measures registry operators could adopt to avoid confusion with corresponding country codes. The measures incorporated the GAC’s advice issued in the Helsinki Communiqué. Forty-three comments were submitted by individuals, governments and groups/organizations.

Whereas, the Board considered the public comments, the staff summary and analysis report of public comments, and GAC advice. The proposed measures were updated to take into account the public comments and GAC advice relating to the proposed measures and two-character labels.

Resolved (2016.11.08.15), the Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes as revised are approved, and the President and CEO, or his designee(s), is authorized to take such actions as appropriate to authorize registry operators to release at the second level the reserved letter/letter two-character ASCII labels not otherwise reserved pursuant to Specification 5, Section 6 of the Registry Agreement, subject to these measures.

Rationale for Resolution: 

Why the Board is addressing the issue?

On 16 October 2014, the Board adopted a resolution directing staff to develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement, taking into account the GAC’s advice in the Los Angeles Communiqué on the matter.

For nearly two and a half years, ICANN has been developing and implementing a procedure as directed by the Board. On 1 December 2014, ICANN launched the first phase of the procedure, an Authorization Process for Release of Two-Character ASCII Labels. The finalization of this procedure is the implementation of a framework containing standardized measures registry operators can implement to avoid confusion, in accordance with the Registry Agreement, and allow for the release of all letter/letter two-character ASCII labels corresponding with country codes not otherwise reserved pursuant to Specification 5, Section 6 of the Registry Agreement.

The GAC has issued advice on this topic in various communiqués over the past two years including, most recently, the Helsinki Communiqué. Per Article XI, Section 2.1 of the ICANN Bylaws, the GAC may "put issues to the Board directly, either by way of comment or prior advice, or by way of specifically recommending action or new policy development or revision to existing policies." The ICANN Bylaws require the Board to take into account the GAC's advice on public policy matters in the formulation and adoption of the policies.

What is the proposal being considered?

The proposal is to address requests from registry operators to release reserved letter/letter two-character ASCII labels and the advice from the GAC on reserved letter/letter labels. The Board is taking action to approve the Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes, as revised. By approving the revised measures, the Board is authorizing ICANN to issue a blanket authorization that allows new gTLD registry operators who implement the required measures to release all reserved letter/letter two-character ASCII labels not otherwise reserved pursuant to Specification 5, Section 6 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement. The current authorization process, whereby a registry operator submits an individual request subject to 60-day comment period and ICANN’s review of comments, will be retired.

Which stakeholders or others were consulted?

ICANN initiated multiple public comment periods and consulted with various stakeholders on this matter over a period of nearly two and a half years.

From June through September 2014, ICANN staff initiated five public comment forums to obtain feedback from the community on the amendments that resulted from various RSEPs to implement the proposed new registry service of releasing from reservation two-character ASCII labels1 for 203 TLDs. Various members of the community submitted comments, including the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), gTLD registry operators, the Brand Registry Group (BRG), INTA Internet Committee (INTA), the Business Constituency (BC), the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) and a registrar.

Since 1 December 2014 at the launch of the Authorization Process for Release from Two-Character ASCII Labels, all authorization requests for letter/letter two-character ACII labels were subject to a comment period. Over 646 requests have been received under this process.

Throughout the nearly two and a half years, ICANN notified 1) the GAC for amendments posted from June through September 2014 and 2) governments for requests under the Authorization Process since December 2014, when two-character requests from registry operators were posted for comment. The GAC had not submitted comments under the Public Comment Periods for the amendments to release two-character labels. Under the Authorization Process, the GAC had not submitted comments, but various individual governments submitted comments on requests.

On 6 October 2015, ICANN corresponded with governments who previously submitted comments requesting that clarification of their comments be provided via a new comment form within 60 days; new comments were required to be submitted via the new comment form.

On 25 February 2016, ICANN corresponded with registry operators requesting they provide proposed measures to avoid confusion with corresponding country codes in order to respond to governments’ confusion concerns within 60 days.

On 8 July 2016, taking into consideration the inputs from governments and registry operators, ICANN published for public comment the Proposed Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes, which listed measures registry operators could adopt to avoid confusion with corresponding country codes and which incorporated the GAC’s advice issued in its Helsinki Communiqué. As part of the proposal, registry operators who adopt the measures would be authorized to release all letter/letter two-character ASCII labels not otherwise reserved in other sections of the Registry Agreement, and the current process would be retired. Forty-three comments were received, including comments from the RySG, the BRG, the IPC, the NCSG, LACTLD, various governments, ccTLD registry operators and gTLD registry operators.

What concerns or issues were raised by the community?

From the five public comment periods from 2014 on registry agreement amendments that resulted from RSEPs, the majority of the comments received were in favor of the release of two-character domain names.

The arguments made in favor of the release of the two-character domain names included:

The introduction of two-character domain names would increase competition since the current restrictions hinder competition, in particular for the new gTLDs, which are competing with legacy TLDs that are allowed to offer such registrations. The current restrictions to the new gTLD registry operators create a discriminatory situation, which is contrary to the ICANN Bylaws Article II, Section 3 that provide for Non-Discriminatory Treatment of ICANN stakeholders.
The introduction of two-character domain names poses a limited risk of confusion, or no risk at all, as demonstrated by prior use of two-character domain names in existing TLDs.
The release of two-character domain names would provide opportunities for companies and brands to have tailored segmented domain names to connect with the public as well as provide localized content, thus expanding consumer choice and driving economic growth, in particular in developing countries.
There is uniform precedent regarding the release of two-character domain names in the history of relevant RSEP requests.
The release of country codes and names is allowed by the Applicant Guidebook.
The arguments made in opposition to the release of the two-character domain names expressed two general concerns: the first concern is related to the general recognition and associated use of the two character domain names leading to user confusion or abuse; the second concern is how to specifically protect ccTLDs when country and territory names are newly formed.

From the public comment forum for the Proposed Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes, which established a standard set of registry operator requirements to avoid confusion, comments indicated support for the release of two-character labels reserved pursuant to Specification 5, Section 2 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement overall, including comments of support from the NCSG, IPC and RySG among others. Comments noted that the Registry Agreement allows for two paths by which registry operators may release two-character labels: one path of agreement with the government and country-code manager, and a second path of ICANN approval.

There was moderate support for the Proposed Measures to the extent the Proposed Measures allows for the release of two-character labels, including comments of support from the RySG and BRG among others. Comments that seem to generally support the Proposed Measures made specific suggestions about how the framework could be improved, such as noting that two of the three proposed measures (registration policy and post-registration investigation) pertained to confusion and suggesting one measure (exclusive availability pre-registration period) be made voluntary.

Some commenters took the position that governments do not have special rights to two-character labels that correspond with country codes, and that the labels should be released as soon as possible. Conversely, some governments and ccTLD operators commented with objections to the release of two-character labels that correspond with country codes and took the position that government and/or ccTLD operator approval is required.

Over the past two years, the GAC has issued advice through various communiqués and formal correspondence to ICANN. Members of the GAC have varying views on the topic. In the Los Angeles Communiqué (15 October 2014), the GAC stated, “The GAC recognized that two-character second level domain names are in wide use across existing TLDs, and have not been the cause of any security, stability, technical or competition concerns. The GAC is not in a position to offer consensus advice on the use of two-character second level domains names in new gTLD registry operations, including those combinations of letters that are also on the ISO 3166-1 alpha 2 list.” In the Helsinki Communiqué (30 June 2016), the GAC stated, “Some countries and territories have stated they require no notification for the release of their 2 letter codes for use at the second level. The GAC considers that, in the event that no preference has been stated, a lack of response should not be considered consent. Some other countries and territories require that an applicant obtains explicit agreement of the country/territory whose 2-letter code is to be used at the second level.”

The Singapore Communiqué (11 February 2015) and Dublin Communiqué (21 October 2015) advised improvements to the process such as extending the comment period from 30 days to 60 days and working with the GAC Secretariat to address technical issues on the comment form. In both communiqués, the GAC advised that comments from relevant governments should be fully considered. In its Helsinki Communiqué, the GAC also advised the Board to “urge the relevant Registry or the Registrar to engage with the relevant GAC members when a risk is identified in order to come to an agreement on how to manage it or to have a third-party assessment of the situation if the name is already registered.”

What significant materials did the Board review? What factors did the Board find to be significant?

The Board reviewed several materials and also considered several significant factors during its deliberations about whether or not to approve the request. The significant materials and factors that the Board considered as part of its deliberations, included, but not limited to the following:

Specification 5, Section 2 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement (updated 9 January 2014)
RSTEP Report on the Proposal for the Limited Release of Initially Reserved Two-Character Names (4 December 2006)
Correspondence from the Board to the GAC regarding requests for release of two-character labels as second-level domains in New gTLDs (2 September 2014)
Correspondence from the GAC to the Board regarding requests for release of two-character labels as second-level domains in New gTLDs (10 September 2014)
GAC Los Angeles Communiqué (15 October 2014)
ICANN Board Resolution 2014.10.16.14: Introduction of Two-character Domain Names in the New gTLD Namespace (16 October 2014)
Authorization Process for Release of Two-Character ASCII Labels (launched 1 December 2014, last updated 14 April 2016)
GAC Singapore Communiqué (11 February 2015)
ICANN Board Resolution 2015.02.12.2016: Release of Two-Letter Codes at the Second Level in gTLDs (12 February 2015)
Correspondence from RySG to the President of the Global Domains Division regarding the treatment of government comments on requests to release two-character ASCII labels (13 March 2015)
Response from the President of the Global Domains Division to the RySG regarding the treatment of government comments on requests to release two-character ASCII labels (23 March 2015)
Joint Correspondence from the BRG, the BC and the IPC to the Board regarding the release of 2-letter labels and country names for Specification 13 registries (14 April 2015)
Response from the President of the Global Domains Division to the BRG, the BC and the IPC regarding the release of 2-letter labels and country names for Specification 13 registries (15 June 2015)
Correspondence from GAC to the President of the Global Domains Division regarding two-character codes as Second Level Domains (16 July 2015)
Response from the President of the Global Domains Division to the GAC regarding two-character codes as Second Level Domains (6 August 2015)
Two-Character Letter/Letter Labels Comments Consideration Process (launched 8 October 2015, last updated 25 February 2016)
GAC Dublin Communiqué (21 October 2015)
Correspondence from RySG to the Board regarding advice contained in the GAC’s Dublin communiqué regarding the use of two-letter country codes (9 November 2015)
Response from the Board to the RySG regarding advice contained in the GAC’s Dublin communiqué regarding the use of two-letter country codes (30 March 2016)
GAC Helsinki Communiqué (30 June 2016)
Proposed Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes (8 July 2016)
Public Comment Summary and Analysis Report on Proposed Measures (23 September 2016)
Correspondence from the Secretariat General of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf to the ICANN President and CEO regarding the proposed measures for letter/letter two-character ASCII labels (3 October 2016)
Correspondence from the Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority of Kuwait to the ICANN President and CEO regarding the proposed measures for letter/letter two-character ASCII labels (12 October 2016)
Are there positive or negative community impacts? Are there fiscal impacts or ramifications on ICANN (strategic plan, operating plan, budget); the community; and/or the public? Are there any security, stability or resiliency issues relating to the DNS?

The overall impact on the community is anticipated to be positive as new opportunities for diversification, competition and targeted content creation in the gTLD namespace are created, while minimal risk of user confusion has been identified.

It is not expected that there will be any significant fiscal impact on ICANN.

In December 2006, the Registry Services Technical Evaluation Panel (RSTEP) issued a report regarding the release of two-character labels and found that “taken in the context of our overall understanding, none of the observations point to the proposed release of two-character Second Level Domain having a material security or stability impact on the Internet.” Additionally, these names are not reserved in many legacy TLDs, which have not caused apparent security, stability or resiliency issues in relation to the DNS.

It is expected that the release of these names in new gTLDs will not cause security, stability or resiliency issues.

Is this either a defined policy process within ICANN’s Supporting Organizations or ICANN’s Organizational Administrative Function decision requiring public comment or not requiring public comment?

This is an Organizational Administrative Function for which public comments were received.