GNSO Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated: 29 May 2012

  1. What is the GNSO?
  2. What makes a domain name "generic"?
  3. What issues does the GNSO address?
  4. What are Registrars and Registries? What functions do they perform?
  5. What are Internet policies, why are they needed, and who establishes them?
  6. What is the GNSO's policy development process (PDP)?
  7. How long does a GNSO PDP take?
  8. Who is in the GNSO?
  9. What does the GNSO Council do?
  10. What is a GNSO Working Group?
  11. Where can I learn more about how the GNSO is structured?
  12. Whom should I contact about my particular domain name issue?
  13. How can I participate in GNSO activities?

What is the GNSO?

The Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) is the largest policy making organization in ICANN. Through its policy development efforts, the GNSO strives to keep generic top-level domains (gTLDs) operating in a fair and orderly fashion across one global Internet, while promoting innovation and competition and maintaining security and stability in line with the Affirmation of Commitments that govern ICANN.

The GNSO Council is the body that fashions policy recommendations for generic Top-Level Domains (e.g., .com, .org, .gov, etc). Council representatives identify, and debate policy issues that are raised by the ICANN Board, by GNSO members or by other communities in ICANN. Over time, as the industry and technology evolve, the GNSO Council also reviews and recommends changes to existing gTLD policies.

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What makes a domain name "generic"?

Some domain names are called generic to distinguish them from country code domain names. Country code domain names are two characters in length, and refer to nations or territories (e.g., .uk for United Kingdom, .cn for China, .de for Deutschland [Germany]). In contrast, generic domain names have three or more characters (e.g., .com, .net, .asia, .travel) and can refer to a variety of subjects. As of May 2011, 22 generic top-level domains were operating, ranging from the well-known .com to the lesser-known .coop and .museum. The web site maintains a complete list of all top-level domains (TLDs) but the GNSO reviews and develops policy recommendations only for generic TLDs.

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What issues does the GNSO address?

The GNSO deals with matters of Internet policy related to generic top-level domains (e.g., .com, .org, .gov, etc.). This is no small task, as generic TLDs (gTLDs) account for more than half of all registered domain names in the world. Examples of GNSO issues include: When you register a domain name, what services must the registrar provide? If you forget to renew your domain name, and it expires, can you get it back? What happens if someone registers a domain name that is confusingly similar to yours? The GNSO addresses these and many other questions using a bottom-up process, driven by working groups run by community volunteers.

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What are Registrars and Registries? What functions do they perform?

Put simplistically, a registrar provides you with the available domain name you request, and a registry makes sure the domain name functions so that the rest of the Internet can reach it.

A registrar is an ICANN-accredited company that processes the registration for your desired domain name. There are many different registrars that compete with each other for your business on the basis of price, value-added services, and customer service, among other factors. To complete your registration, your registrar will ask you to provide various contact and technical information. The registrars will then keep records of your contact information and submit the technical information to a central directory known as the registry. The latest list of ICANN Accredited Registrars, can be found at ICANN's web site.

A registry is the entity that maintains the authoritative database for all domain names registered in a top-level domain (TLD). Your registrar must process your domain name registration through the registry responsible for your chosen domain's TLD. For example, the registry VeriSign operates .COM and .NET, so if your domain name includes either .COM or .NET, your registry is VeriSign. The Public Interest Registry maintains the .ORG gTLD, so if your domain name includes .ORG, your registry is the Public Interest Registry. A complete list of Registries can be found at ICANN's web site.

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What are Internet policies? Why are they needed? Who establishes them?

Internet policies exist to help advance the stable and secure operation of the Internet's unique identifier systems, such as domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) Addresses. These unique identifiers allow computers on the Internet to find each other. If they were not centrally coordinated and maintained, we would not have one global Internet. Examples of Internet policies currently being developed answer questions such as, Who can apply for and run a new generic Top-level Domain? How can we get domain names to work that are written in non-Western or right-to-left characters? What rules should apply when a person wants to stop working with one registrar and work with another instead, while keeping the same domain name?

Internet policy is developed by the ICANN community's bottom-up, consensus-based policy making structure. Three groups at ICANN are responsible for developing Internet policy and making recommendations to the ICANN Board: the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO), and the Address Supporting Organization (ASO). The ICANN Board of Directors has the final vote on whether or not an Internet policy will be implemented.

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What is the GNSO's policy development process (PDP)?

The GNSO's PDP is a detailed bottom-up, multi-stakeholder process that invites global participation and depends on the Internet community's input for success. Here are the major stages of the process:

  • The GNSO, one of a number of Advisory Committees, or the ICANN Board raises a policy issue for consideration. Often, they bring up issues that regular Internet users have suggested to them.
  • ICANN Staff researches the issue objectively, then prepares an Issues Paper that presents different views and includes an opinion from ICANN's legal staff on whether the issue is in the scope of ICANN's mission.
  • Staff presents the Issues Paper to the GNSO Council, which then decides whether to initiate a PDP.
  • If the Council decides to start a PDP, they convene and charter a volunteer Working Group.
  • If the Working Group makes policy recommendations, the GNSO Council considers them. If the Council approves the recommendations, they forward the proposed new policies to the ICANN Board of Directors for its consideration.
  • If the Board adopts the policy, ICANN staff implements it.

Staying true to ICANN's core value of inclusiveness, each phase of the GNSO PDP includes public comment periods, when any and all Internet users can review the proposed policy and share their input. Most recommendations go through a few iterations as the responsible Working Group adjusts its report to incorporate the public comments.

The PDP flow diagram:

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How long does the GNSO Policy Development Process take?

The length of the Policy Development Process varies depending on the complexity of the issue being addressed, and the level of controversy it creates among GNSO participants. In 2010, an ICANN staff member measured the length of every PDP the GNSO has done and found that the average length was 404 days. Thus, as a very rough rule of thumb, you can figure that a PDP takes slightly over a year. That's why the GNSO works diligently to make sure a given issue is broad and timeless enough to deserve the level of deliberation and focus inherent in their PDP.

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Who is in the GNSO?

The GNSO is made up of a diverse, international group of Internet community members who are passionate about the future of the Internet. Formal GNSO Stakeholder Groups and Constituencies include gTLD registries, gTLD registrars, businesses, intellectual property advocates, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and representatives of various types of non-commercial Internet users such as non-profit organizations, universities, advocacy groups, etc. The GNSO community is made up of four major groups of stakeholders – generic TLD Registries, generic TLD Registrars, Commercial and non-commercial interests.

To view profiles of leaders in the GNSO, refer to the GNSO's About page.

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What does the GNSO Council do?

The GNSO Council is the strategic manager and coordinator of the policy development process. It oversees Working Groups and standing committees, and is the gateway between the Working Groups and the ICANN Board. The Council is broadly representative of the various parties in the GNSO, so nothing proceeds from the GNSO to the rest of ICANN unless the GNSO Council approves it. The full set of the Council's Operating Procedures can be found here -

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What is a GNSO Working Group?

A key part of the GNSO's Policy Development Process (PDP), is the establishment of a volunteer Working Group focused on the specific policy issue at hand. In the spirit of ICANN's inclusiveness, membership in GNSO Working Groups is open to anyone interested in participating. The only requirement is that you must sign up, provide a statement of interest, and participate actively. The complete set of GNSO Working Group Guidelines can be found here – A summary of the guidelines for new volunteers can be found here –

A Working Group should mirror the diversity and inclusiveness of the GNSO community by having representatives from most, if not all, GNSO Stakeholder Groups and/or Constituencies. Working Groups may also have liaisons, observers, and participants from other groups within ICANN.

GNSO Working Groups tend to meet weekly or biweekly, and because members come from all over the world, meetings mostly occur by telephone or via webinar-style sessions. Members discuss and work through issues and attempt to arrive at recommendations and policies by consensus. Usually, Working Groups have a number of public comment periods in which they invite the public to comment on the issue and any reports they've developed.

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Where can I learn more about how the GNSO is structured?

Please click here to see a chart of the GNSO's structure.

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Whom should I contact about my particular domain name issue?

Most Registrant issues can be resolved with the Registrar you chose to register your domain with. Each Registrar will have a customer service or self help section to address complaints of abuse or issues with the registration of your domain. If you feel your request is not handled appropriately, please navigate to ICANN's Internic web site for additional assistance.

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How can I participate in GNSO activities?

There are many ways for interested Internet users or members of the ICANN community to participate in GNSO Internet policy development. We encourage your involvement, as our volunteer-driven model depends on your help. How you should participate often depends on how much time you want to contribute. Here are several different participation options:

If you represent a group or community that is not represented by a GNSO Constituency, you can consider starting a new Constituency.

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