Tech businesses are used to reading about ICANN increasing the reach of the internet with more and more top-level domains - it may therefore come as a surprise that ICANN is considering retiring some of them.

ICANN’s focus is country code top-level domain names (ccTLDs). For those who may not be aware, ccTLDs are generally determined by the Alpha-2 code (explained further below) for the particular jurisdiction as listed within ISO 3166.   When a new Alpha-2 code is added to ISO 3166, a ccTLD corresponding to that Alpha-2 code is added to the ICANN Root Zone (i.e. delegation of top-level domain names and corresponding list of root servers).

There are currently 249 countries, territories, or areas of geographical interest which are assigned Alpha-2 codes in ISO 3166. These Alpha-2 codes generally correspond to the ccTLDs which we are used to seeing in domain names (such as .au for Australia; .de for Germany; and .fr for France). The UK is officially assigned the Alpha-2 code 'GB' rather than 'UK', based on its official name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", although UK (and so .uk) is reserved at the request of the UK government. Not surprisingly, as international borders change, some of these Alpha-2 codes (and therefore ccTLDs) are in dispute (such as .tw for Taiwan; .ps for Palestine; and .fk for the Falklands).

The ISO 3166 list is dynamic and country codes are added and removed on a regular basis. However, there is no formal policy available for the removal of a ccTLD from the Root Zone after the Alpha-2 code is removed from the ISO 3166 list of jurisdictions.

ICANN would like to develop such a policy with the assistance from the broader community. Key areas of concern are:

  • Definition of the event that causes the start of the retirement process of a ccTLD and the event that closes the process
  • Description of the retirement process
  • Duration of the process
  • Retirement Plan
  • Oversight of process and identification of decisions during the process that should be subject to a review mechanism

Responses are requested by 10 July 2020 through ICANN’s portal.

Why is this of interest?  The internet has expanded significantly since the original top-level domain names of .com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov and .mil.  Since 2012, there has been an explosion of generic top-level domain names, with some 1,500 now in existence - not only for country codes, but also for cities and regions (such as .london and .tirol (in Austria)), descriptive words (such as .baby (by Johnson and Johnson) and .makeup (by L’Oreal)) and brands (.apple (by Apple) and .lincoln (by Ford Motor Co)).  Given the increase in top-level domain names for tech businesses to potentially monitor, the removal of an opportunity for them to be used for fraudulent purposes will be seen by many as a positive step.