ICANN may have failed so far to deliver a way for the world to create any more gTLDs, but it’s about to pick a string that it will resolve to never, ever delegate.
It’s going to designate an official “private use” string, designed for organizations to use behind their own firewalls, and promise that the chosen string will never make it to the DNS root.
IP lawyers and new gTLD consultants might want to keep an eye on this one.
The move comes at the prompting of the Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which called for ICANN to pick a private-use TLD in a September 2020 document (pdf).
ICANN hasn’t picked a string yet, but it has published its criteria for public comment:
1. It is a valid DNS label.
2. It is not already delegated in the root zone.
3. It is not confusingly similar to another TLD in existence.
4. It is relatively short, memorable, and meaningful.
The obvious thing to do would be to pick one of the 42 strings ICANN banned in the 2012 new gTLD round, which includes .example, .test and .invalid, or one of the three strings it subsequently decided were too risky to go in the root due to their extensive use on private networks — .corp, .mail and .home.
The SSAC notes in its document that ICANN’s two root server constellations receive about 854 million requests a day for .home — the most-used invalid TLD — presumably due to leaks from corporate networks and home routers.
But .homes (plural) is currently in use — XYZ.com manages the registry — so would .home fail the “confusingly similar” test? Given that it’s already established ICANN policy that plurals should be banned in the next round, .home could be ruled out.
ICANN’s consultation doesn’t make mention of whether gTLDs applied for in subsequent rounds would be tested for confusing similarity against this currently theoretical private-use string, but it seems likely.
Anyone considering applying for a gTLD in future will want to make sure the string ICANN picks isn’t too close to their brands or gTLD string ideas. Its eventual choice of string will also be open for public comment.
There don’t seem to be a massive amount of real-world benefits to designating a single private-use TLD string.
Nobody would be obliged to use it in their kit or on their networks, even if they know it exists, and ICANN’s track record of reaching out to the broader tech sector isn’t exactly stellar (see: universal acceptance). And even if everyone currently using a different TLD in their products were to switch to ICANN’s choice, it would presumably take many years for currently deployed gear to cycle out of usage.