The domain name system allows people to easily find websites and other Internet services. You are probably familiar with top-level domains like .com, .org, and .net. But, there are also top-level domains for countries. For example, New Zealand has .nz, Germany has .de, and China has .中国.
To two domain, or not to two domain
As you may have guessed, the United Kingdom has the top level domain of .uk. But we also have the top level domain for Great Britain - which is .gb!
It is staggeringly unlikely that you would ever have encountered a .gb domain in the wild. The only domain which is registered, though inactive, is hmg.gb - standing for His Majesty's Government. The domain was originally created in the mid 1980s, and abandoned at some point in the 1990s. There are no active domains which use .gb and today, the government only uses .gov.uk for its domains.
The Securing Government Services team at CDDO are currently in the middle of a housekeeping exercise to clean up and remove legacy services. As part of that, we are considering whether we should remove the .gb top level domain from the internet. And, we'd like your opinion on whether or not we should do that.
Administratively, it is quite simple. The .gb top level domain is delegated to the government from an organisation called ICANN - the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. We would simply need to tell them that .gb is no longer needed, and it can thus be removed from the Internet.
One of the Cabinet Office's key responsibilities is supporting collective government. As such, we have no desire to set up a separate set of domains solely for Great Britain rather than the United Kingdom.
Rationalising the estate of top level domains we have to monitor and protect will free up resources in our team. As we begin the process of moving to a new domain registry for .gov.uk it makes sense to remove any obsolete top level domains, so we don't have to pay to administer them.
There is no cost to us to hand the domain back. In fact, removing it might save us a small amount of money because we will have one less resource to monitor for security issues.
To not domain
There is a risk that if handed back another country might try to claim it for themselves. We judge this risk to be extremely low. Great Britain is assigned the .gb domain because of the policies in ISO 3166. The UK could then officially object to another country using .gb if we were concerned.
However, even if that unlikely event did occur - almost no-one would mistake a .gb domain for a .uk domain, because .gb has, as outlined, been obsolete for over thirty years.
That is the question
So, it is our intention to inform ICANN early in 2023 that the UK wishes to retire .gb. We expect this to be a straightforward administrative procedure.
We are contacting organisations which we think might be interested in this proposal and will assess their responses.
If you have any comments or questions about this proposal, please leave a comment on this blog post.