GeoTLD application criteria unchanged

New window for city and regional TLDs expected in 2021 or 2022

ICANN's 66th conference was held last week in Montreal, Canada. One item on the agenda was the criteria that cities and regions wanting their own geographical top-level domains (geoTLDs) will have to meet in the planned application window. The main conclusion there was that the criteria should be almost the same as in the previous window. That was the recommendation of the working group that has been reviewing the procedure for the last two years plus. The group's final report will be submitted to the ICANN Board for approval in the near future.

GeoTLDs are popular

GeoTLDs are one of the more popular categories of new TLD, because many local authorities see them as excellent vehicles for profiling their cities and regions. Examples include .amsterdam, .frl (Friesland) and .bayern (Bavaria). Some geoTLDs have done well, while others have struggled. Amsterdam's city TLD is one of the most successful in the world, relative to the size of the city and local economy. Unfortunately, other geoTLDs -- including .ruhr and .vlaanderen -- have failed to capture the public imagination. In practice, success isn't simply about having a large population and a dynamic economy: the geoTLD for a relatively small region such as Tirol can do well, while the TLD for the populous, wealthy Ruhr doesn't take off. Sentiment and the cachet of the name are apparently what matters. Thorough market research in the city or region is therefore a vital precursor to creating a geoTLD.

Sensitivities

Many geoTLDs evoke significant sensitivities. They may for example reflect a region's desire to be distinct from its parent nation, as with .cat (Catalonia) and .eus (the Basque Country) in Spain. Then there are place names that are also generic terms, such as the French city Tours, whose name could easily be misunderstood in the English-speaking world if used as a TLD. And special cases, such as the well publicised .amazon question. That TLD is claimed by the US retail giant, but several South American countries in the Amazon region are strongly opposed. It's therefore good to know what criteria a geoTLD application must fulfil in the upcoming window.

Official approval

First and foremost, an application for a geoTLD associated with a city or region should have the backing of the corresponding local authorities. At the very least, the applicant needs to provide a statement from the authorities saying that they have no objection. If, for example, you want to create a .brabant geoTLD, you'll need the consent of the authorities, not only in the Dutch province of Brabant, but also in the Belgian province of the same name. Official approval is needed for any geoTLD that corresponds to a region on the UNESCO list (e.g. Catalonia) or is an exact match with the name of an administrative region (e.g. Overijssel). With cities, the situation is more complex. There is no 'official list' of cities, so local authority approval is required only if it is clear that the geoTLD is intended for use in connection with a particular city. In other words, you need the okay of the Municipality of Tours only if you want to create a .tours TLD for people or organisations linked to the city. If you plan to use .tours for travel domains, no official approval is needed. Another example is .vegas: that doesn't count as a geoTLD, because the word has global associations with betting. Nevertheless, official support is nearly always very important for an application to succeed. If the local authorities plan to use an extension, that's a valuable endorsement.

Next steps

ICANN is currently preparing for a new application window, which is likely to open in 2021 of 2022. If the working group's recommendations are accepted, would-be applicants will know what conditions they need to fulfil. Clarity about the criteria is important, because preparing an application can easily take a year or more. Anyone wanting to create a new geoTLD will therefore need to start work some time next year. Market research, technical preparations and the identification of a suitable registry service provider will all need to be addressed.

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