Last week I attended the “Second International Conference for ccTLD Registries and Registrars of CIS, Central and Eastern Europe”, held in the picturesque lakeside town of Bled, in Slovenia. Bled is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure to visit and the conference, despite its rather cumbersome title, was similarly rewarding.
I’ve been around the domain name industry for a while and have attended a few ICANN meetings, but this was only my second regional ccTLD-focussed conference. I’ve also had some exposure to Eastern Europe but my exposure to Central Asia and the Caucasus is almost zero, limited to watching a picture of a plane following a red line across a map of the area on overnight flights between Australia and Europe.
I therefore wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, though my background research suggested that it was likely to be an interesting affair. The attendees list indicated a healthy turnout of ccTLD Managers, representing everyone from EU member states to Central Asian Republics. As my role at AusRegistry International is to build relationships with ccTLD managers around the world, this looked promising.
The conference itself was organised (very well, it should be said) by the Coordination Center for TLD RU (ccTLD.RU – Russia’s ccTLD manager), with local assistance from ARNES (the Slovenian ccTLD manager) and the Slovenian chapter of the Internet Society.
Each of the countries represented at the conference (with the exception of guest speakers, such as myself) share similar histories and so cultural perspectives and I was curious to see to what extent this, and Russia’s historically dominant position in the region, impacts on how ccTLD managers see their role in the Internet.
Many of the attendees spoke better Russian than English so a significant proportion of the conference was conducted in Russian. This was my first experience listening to a translation, which took a little getting used to, but the translator was really very good. Trying to watch a presentation in Cyrillic though was a reminder of just how spoilt I normally am as a native English speaker in today’s world, and of how critically important IDNs are to this (and other) regions.
It was fascinating to hear some very different perspectives than I’ve been used to in the past. As I come from an English-speaking country that is politically closely aligned with the United States and well represented within the ICANN community, it’s easy to forget that there are groups of people who are much less comfortable operating within the ICANN process, especially when it comes to the role the US government plays with respect to the agreements and contracts it has with ICANN.
A number of ICANN staff attended the meeting and did their best to allay some of the concerns expressed, particularly the idea that the US government has ‘a big red button’ that can be used to turn off the Internet at will. While this at first seemed ludicrous, even paranoid to me, it was a view earnestly held by a number of my colleagues and it was instructive to hear their views and arguments.
For example, some of the countries in this region do not send representatives to the GAC, because (as I understand it) they feel that this would be interpreted as recognition of the US government as the controlling body of the Internet. Others feel it is better to work from inside the tent, rather than outside – and there was also much encouragement to join and participate in the ccNSO. I hope I was also able to provide them with some of my, Australian, perspective.
This conference therefore plays an important regional role as an event that allows ccTLD managers (and others in the industry) to share their experiences and to support each other, without becoming entangled in the political issues that make ICANN a problematic space for some of them.
From a personal perspective, it was great to have the opportunity to meet with ccTLD managers from a range of countries, and to hear about the various challenges that they face in an increasingly competitive market and an increasingly challenging security environment.
I also enjoyed the chance, as part of the Marketing panel, to present some of the experiences that we have gained during our time as Registry Operator for the dot-au ccTLD and from our work with other ccTLDs, especially our clients in the Middle East.
I should also mention the local hosts’ hospitality: we were treated to two excellent dinners – the second one being a particularly special affair held in Bled Castle with spectacular views over the lake and the mountains beyond.
The only real complaint I have is in relation to the extremely flaky wireless internet connectivity in the conference hall. I have a suspicion though that this may have been a deliberate strategy on the part of the organisers to get people to actually listen to the presentations. A strategy to be considered for future ICANN meetings perhaps…
Jon Lawrence is Business Development Consultant at AusRegistry International