It's been a while since our last update on recently-delegated TLDs. And that's because, since the end of 2016, TLD delegation has been reduced to the slightest trickle. Since January 1, only three TLDs have been delegated to the root zone. With two of them at the beginning of April, we thought we'd bring you the latest now, and the stories behind them.
Starting off back in February, .africa was delegated and in April both .rugby and .hotel were also delegated. As had been the pattern the last time we checked in on recently-delegated TLDs, it seems as though ICANN is now in a phase of delegating some of the TLDs that have histories of a bit more contention, which makes looking into the stories behind these delegations all the more revelatory about the new gTLD process in practice.
.africa — February 15
Representing the second-largest continent in terms of landmass and second-largest in terms of population, .africa is, understandably, a desirable TLD, and .africa was originally applied for as early as the 2000 "proof of concept" round of new gTLD applications, though the application was ultimately denied.
Applications came in during the 2012 application window from two applicants: South Africa-based UniForum, who had the backing of the African Union and several African governments, and Mauritius-based DotConnectAfrica.
While neither applied for a Community application, UniForum's support from the African Union and African countries and the fact that the string is a geographic domain name heavily favors their bid in ICANN's process. DotConnectAfrica's bid, on the other hand, was one of only two applications to receive unanimous opposition from ICANN's GAC.
Nonetheless, DotConnectAfrica fought fiercely and exhaustively on behalf of their application, culminating in litigation against ICANN.
Even so, ICANN delegated the .africa domain to UniForum (aka Registry.Africa) on February 15.
.rugby — April 7
Competition was also fierce for .rugby. Things got heated between New Zealand-based ROAR Domains and Donuts when ROAR lobbied to get Donuts disqualified from the entire gTLD program outright for failing a background check.
ROAR's bid enjoyed the backing of the International Rugby Board (IRB), and as such IRB filed an objection with ICANN to Donuts's application on the grounds that ROAR was the sole applicant with backing from the Rugby community.
Both Donuts and Famous Four Media (the other applicant for .rugby) received GAC Early Warnings from the United Kingdom. The warnings were evidently obtained by ROAR.
Donuts, for its part, lobbied the UK GAC representative to reconsider the benefits of a "neutral" administrator for .rugby, rather than one representing the interests of one group within the community (namely, IRB).
Ultimately, it was ROAR's application that prevailed.
.hotels - April 7
The case of .hotels sheds some light on an unusual mechanism within the new TLD delegation process. ICANN received applications both for .hotels and for .hoteis. In February 2013, however, the String Similarity Panel (SSP) issued a ruling deeming .hotels and .hoteis too similar. The String Similarity Panel evaluates the strings during the Initial Evaluation. These two TLDs were only two of the four TLDs flagged by the SSP (the other two being .unicom and .unicorn).
Booking.com, the only applicant for .hotels, filed a claim with ICANN's Independent Review Panel (IRP) following this ruling, not because they took issue with the decision itself, but because they took issue with the SSP process as unfair and lacking transparency, so much as to be a violation of ICANN's own bylaws. While the IRP agreed on that point, it nonetheless held that ICANN didn't break its own rules, instead stating that ICANN should correct the issues with the SSP process.
Nonetheless, the similarity between .hotels and .hoteis is clear. .hotels and .hoteIs are virtually indistinguishable in virtually all browser address bars.
In the end, these two TLDs went to auction, with Booking.com winning.