It's not often that a top-level domain (TLD), a basic address like .com, .net, or a country code like .fr., is deleted, but that's just what happened this week to domain .tp, one of the last vestiges of the colonization of the Southeast Asian country East Timor.
The domain .tp stood for "Timor Português," or Portuguese Timor, based on the country's years under Portuguese rule beginning in the 16th century. Portuguese colonization of East Timor continued until the country declared its independence in 1975. However, shortly after it declared independence from Portugal, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia, which occupied the country until 1999. Since officially becoming a sovereign state in 2002, East Timor has been working to transfer its country code top-level domains, or ccTLD, from .tp to .tl, which stands for "Timor-Leste," or East Timor.
The process behind this transition is determined by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a department within Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the domains of the internet. The IANA determines country codes based on standards published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
"This is an example of a consensual and well orchestrated transition."
The IANA board of directors authorized a request to transition the domain .tp to .tl in 2005, and subsequently stopped accepting .tp domains. James Cole, a spokesperson for ICANN, said the transition has been, "in the works for many years now."
"This is an example of a consensual and well orchestrated transition," he said. "It has been 10 years in the making, and the deletion of .tp was the last piece of the puzzle."
The infrastructure of the internet is often politicized, and the governance of domain names is no different. Unsurprisingly .ps, the domain for Palestine, which some countries do not recognize as a state was contested for several years after the ISO did not at first recognize it as such. The deletion of a domain, such as the case of .tp, is not unprecedented—IANA went through a similar process in 2001 when it deleted ccTLD .zr after Zaire became the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When IANA considers whether to redelegate a ccTLD, it seeks out the input of people within the territory affected by the transfer as well as the government in question, keeping in mind that ccTLDs are "intended to be operated for the benefit of the Internet community in the nation or other territory with which the country-code is associated."
"The desires of the government of a country with regard to delegation of a ccTLD are taken very seriously," the evaluation of the .tl domain reads. "The IANA will make them a major consideration in any TLD delegation/transfer discussions."
As East Timor became a member of the United Nations in 2002 and was recognized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2011, this simple deletion of a domain may mark the final bit of housekeeping in its transition to a sovereign state.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to East Timor as a South Asian, as opposed to Southeast Asian, nation.