AFNIC to release one and two-character domain names by end of year

France

AFNIC, the French domain name registry, has announced its plans to release one and two-character domain names, which were until now not available for registration. This release will concern domain names consisting of one/two letters and/or numbers under all the extensions managed by AFNIC - that is to say, ‘.fr’ (France), ‘.re’ (Reunion Island), ‘.yt’ (Mayotte), ‘.wf’ (Wallis and Futuna), ‘.tf’ (French Southern Territories) and ‘.pm’ (Saint-Pierre and Miquelon), and will also concern internationalised domain names (IDNs), such as ‘à.fr’ or ‘2ü.fr’. A consultation period was thus opened by AFNIC to allow the public to voice their opinion on the procedure to put in place for the release of these domain names.

Not all registries allow one and two-character domain names to be registered. It was originally thought that allowing the registration of two-letter domain names may cause confusion, especially given the fact that the two-letter codes published by the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) are used to designate country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) on the Internet. However, it is now generally accepted that, technically, there is no reason why one and two-character domain names cannot be made available for registration and, therefore, more and more ccTLD registries are now allowing the registration of such domain names.

Short domain names consisting of only one or two characters are very popular given that there are only a finite number of them and they are easy to remember. As a result, they are usually very expensive on the domain name aftermarket. As a consequence, when they are released by registries, they are highly sought after and competition to obtain them is usually tough.

Back in 2009, DENIC, the German domain name registry, had released one and two-character domain names under ‘.de’ on a first-come, first-served basis, which was felt by many brand owners to be a flawed release mechanism. Indeed, in the aftermath of the DENIC release, it became clear that a small group of domainers had targeted the launch and secured many of these premium domain names. In 2011 the UK registry proceeded differently and ensured a fairer launch by releasing those short domain names in stages, with two sunrise periods intended for trademark holders, followed by a landrush period and then a general availability period.

AFNIC is currently in the process of defining the procedure that will be as fair as possible for the majority of internet users. In order to assist AFNIC in the creation of this process, a public consultation period was opened, during which AFNIC invited the public to express its opinion on the way one and two-character domain names should be released, which could be:

  • on a first-come, first-served basis;
  • via a system of auction;
  • via the assessment of the applicant's projects for the applied for domain name; or
  • via a two-phase registration process consisting of a sunrise period followed by a first-come, first-served phase. 

It is likely that AFNIC will opt for the last option and put in place a sunrise period in order to ensure a fair release, but this will be confirmed at a later stage. 

In addition to the above, AFNIC sought the public's opinion on whether there should be any naming restrictions - for example, should any the following be excluded:

  • the six extensions managed by AFNIC, that is to say ‘fr’, ‘re’, ‘yt’, ‘wf’, ‘tf’ and ‘pm’ (as in ‘fr.fr’, ‘re.fr’, ‘re.pm’, etc);
  • the complete list of the two-letter country codes as defined by ISO (as in ‘de.fr’, ‘uk.fr’, etc);
  • the letters ‘co’, to avoid the risk of confusion by internet users - ‘co.fr’ (as in, for example, the subdomain ‘mycompany.co.fr’) could be seen as a second-level extension managed by AFNIC; and
  • the letters ‘rf’, which is the acronym of the French Republic.

AFNIC has stated that the release of one and two-character domain names will take place at the end of this year. 

David Taylor and Laetitia Arrault, Hogan Lovells LLP, Paris

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