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Top-Level and "Adult" Internet Domains

Over the next several months colleges and universities are likely to face two questions involving their Internet identity:

• whether to secure their own generic top-level domain (gTLD), and
• whether to take steps to block their institution's name being used within the new adult-oriented .xxx domain.

These are unrelated issues, but we thought it useful to comment on the two together.

Generic Top-Level Domains

Beginning soon, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will begin accepting applications for new top-level domains. There have long been two kinds of top-level domains:

• "generic" top-level domains (gTLD), such as .com, .org, .edu, and the more recently authorized .biz, .travel, and so forth, and
• "country-code" top-level domains (ccTLD), such as .us, .mx, .cn, and .uk

ICANN now proposes to approve an essentially unlimited number of new gTLDs. So the issue arises: should, as an example, the University of Bigstate apply for a new top-level domain called, say, .bigstate? If it did so, then it could create domains within that top-level domain so that, for example, its School of Architecture could be architecture.bigstate, its business school could be business.bigstate, and so forth. The new top-level domain might simply lead to the same Web pages and servers already hosted under bigstate.edu, or the new gTLD could be used for other purposes.

Managing a top-level domain is a non-trivial challenge. There is a registrar function, which can require extreme care and attentiveness (EDUCAUSE manages this function for the .edu gTLD, under the authority and regulation of the US Department of Commerce – the "one .edu per institution" rule, for example, comes from Commerce). There are various policies to be promulgated and enforced. In addition to these operational and policy costs, there's a direct fee charged by ICANN: $185,000 to obtain the gTLD, plus an annual fee of at least $25,000.

A gTLD can be open, in that anyone can request a domain within the gTLD (this is the case for .com, for example) or it can be restricted (as .edu is). If the gTLD is restricted, the institution that controls it must clearly state what the restrictions are and then ensure that they are enforced consistently. That is, if the University of Bigstate defines its .bigstate gTLD as restricted to the official units of the University of Bigstate, it cannot then grant a dormpizza.bigstate domain to the local pizzeria, or to an alumni organization that is not formally part of the University.

ICANN expects that a gTLD will be operational. It therefore may deny applications that are intended merely to block others from obtaining a gTLD. That is, if Reed College, for example, applies for the .reed gTLD but has no intention of approving domains within it or using .reed in any way, then ICANN may refuse to approve Reed's request, or may revoke the gTLD approval if .reed is not used.

We expect that very few institutions will find it attractive to obtain their own gTLD given the costs and operational burdens. There is a great deal more information about the new gTLD process at http://www.icann.org/en/topics/new-gtlds/strategy-faq.htm.

Blocking domains in the .xxx "adult" gTLD

Beginning in September 2011, it will become possible to register domains within the .xxx generic top-level domain, which is intended to host "adult" services and sites. Colleges and universities may wish to ensure that their name does not become a domain within .xxx -- that is, the University of Bigstate may prefer that there not be a bigstate.xxx domain.

Unfortunately, obtaining or blocking .xxx domains requires that the domain's name precisely match a registered trademark. That is, if the University of Bigstate has registered the mark "bigstate", then it will be able to block bigstate.xxx (or, conversely, to obtain it, if Bigstate wishes to enter the adult-entertainment business). If, on the other hand, the University of Bigstate has trademarked "ubigstate" but not "bigstate", then it will not be able to block someone from obtaining "bigstate.xxx". (An application to obtain a .xxx domain is a Sunrise A application; an application to block or reserve it is called a Sunrise B application.)

It's important to note that an entity that wanted to obtain bigstate.xxx would itself have to register the trademark "bigstate", and presumably the University of Bigstate could oppose issuance of that trademark. More information on the registration and reservation (blocking) procedures for .xxx is available from the company managing the process, IPRota, at http://gregj.us/pZeL22.

If your institution wants to prevent its name from being used within .xxx, then two steps are required:

• Make sure that the name is trademarked in precisely the form to be blocked, and then
• Apply to a registrar that has agreed to handle "Sunrise B" applications for .xxx, submitting the required documents and fees.

EDUCAUSE is not handling Sunrise B applications. Several commercial registrars are handling such applications; here are links to some of them:

http://www.101domain.com/tlds/xxx/index.htm
https://www.uniteddomains.com/new-top-level-domain/xxx-domain-registration/
http://www.networksolutions.com/domain-name-registration/xxx-domain-exte...
http://www.godaddy.com/tlds/xxx-domain.aspx

We will provide further information as seems appropriate, but EDUCAUSE cannot advise individual members how their institutions should deal with either of these issues.

Greg Jackson
Vice President
EDUCAUSE

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