Local communities … not just governments.

by Kim Davies on September 24, 2009

As ICANN staff, it is hard to avoid the news when your organisation is the subject of a hearing held by the United States Congress. This week we saw another such hearing, where the House Judiciary committee discussed the future deployment of new top-level domains.

A number of people testified, including my colleague Doug Brent, but it is the testimony of Steve DelBianco I found particularly intriguing. His testimony revolved around the notion the country-code top-level domains are “controlled by governments”, and future IDN fast track ccTLD allocations will be “reserved only for governments”.

I think many in the ccTLD community will be puzzled by these repeated assertions in his testimony.

Let’s set the stage a little. Country-code top-level domains have existed since the mid-1980s — they are the domains that currently end with two-letter extensions like .FI for Finland, and .DE for Germany. Each country has one available for their use, taken from the ISO 3166-1 standard, but at present they are all written in the letters used for English, known as Latin characters. One of ICANN’s key current initiatives is to work on allowing country-codes to be deployed in different scripts, such as those used for Chinese, Russian and Arabic languages. It is not terribly convenient for those who type in these languages to have to switch their computer to using Latin characters just to put the two-letter endings on their domains, and this will address that.

Recognising that coming up with a complete solution for these internationalised country codes will take some time, the community is working on a “fast track” programme which allows countries that have a demonstrated immediate need to get early access to using these domains. Applications will need to show that the strings they would like to use (like .рф, .日本国 or .ελ) are not contentious, in addition to meeting all the existing eligibility criteria we use for assigning the Latin-based country codes.

So what are the criteria we use today?

The criteria we use in large part revolve around the consensus of “local Internet community” — a sometimes nebulous concept, to be sure, but in essence recognising it is the Internet community as a whole in the country that should decide how their domain is run, not just the Government.

IANA Staff wrote in 1994 that we assign country code top-level domains to trustees that “carry out the necessary responsibilities, and have the ability to do an equitable, just, honest, and competent job”, and have a “duty to serve the community”. “Significantly interested parties in the domain should agree that the designated manager is the appropriate party.”

With respect to national governments, in 1997 we noted that “an additional factor has become very important since [1994]: the desires of the government of the country.  The IANA takes the desires of the government of the country very seriously, and will take them as a major consideration in any transition discussion.” Subsequent to that, the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee has also made statements regarding this principle.

Clearly national governments have an important role in country-code top-level domains, but that does not translate to controlling them. It is the local Internet community that we look to to provide guidance on how their domains should be run. We expect governments are an important actor in the local Internet community, and that they are involved in the discussion and decision making. But there is a key difference between that, and them exclusively controlling the domain, or having them reserved for the government’s use. If the top-level domain for a particular country is assigned to its government to operate directly, it is because the local Internet community consensus there has decided that is what is appropriate, versus some other alternative.

A basic description of the evaluation criteria we use are provided in the public summary delegation reports we publish on the IANA website (see here for a recent example). ICANN staff have also been working in recent months on improving the public delegation documentation, in anticipation of the launch of the fast track programme. This documentation will better elaborate our existing processes. It is our hope that this will assist prospective applicants for these domains better understand the evaluation criteria when they submit their applications.

We know that Internet communities in a number of countries are already discussing how best to run a potential fast track internationalised domain, so that they can be ready to present their consensus should the programme be launched. Until then, all countries of the world have their two-letter ASCII code and ICANN continues to receive requests to maintain and transfer these domains in accordance with the community’s wishes.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Zuck 09.26.09 at 7:26 am

Kim,
An interesting and enlightening post! Perhaps Mr. DelBianco did over reach with his assertion that CCtlds are run by governments. I wonder if you could discuss this further with some detail. Can you share the percentage of CCtlds in which the government of that country has final authority, if any? To be honest, I thought it was all of them but with what you say above it’s very few if any. They are all managed in equal collaboration with the local internet community? I guess my only other question is if these domains are community managed, why has it been so challenging to get them to sign the standard registry contract with ICANN? Thanks for the additional information.

Jonathan

Steve DelBianco 09.26.09 at 10:27 am

While the acoustics in Congressional hearing rooms are notoriously bad, there’s just no excuse for Kim (or Kathy Kleiman) to quote the exact OPPOSITE of what I said, especially since my written testimony
was so explicit: was so explicit:

ICANN created a ‘fast track’ for non-Latin domains – but only for country-code domains that are controlled by governments. Global domains (such as .com, .org, .edu) are left on the slow track when it comes to serving the half of the world’s population that doesn’t use our alphabet. Websites seeking to reach non-Latin users must use a country-code domain, where governments can enforce restrictions on content and free expression.

During the hearing, I put it this way:

A good outcome from today’s hearing would be having ICANN refocus on international labels. Not just government controlled country-codes, since people in China and India want access to global labels ( like .org and .com and .asia ) in their languages, too.

Now that we’re straight on what I’m advocating, let’s have a real conversation about giving IDN communities access to both country-code and generic top level domains.

Ray Marshall 09.27.09 at 5:33 pm

Steve,

What is your position on City TLDs?

Ray Marshall

Ray Marshall 09.27.09 at 8:57 pm

“As the goliath in search, Google will be the big winner from an expansion of TLDs, along with the companies earning fees for defensive registrations.” Part of the statement of Steve DelBianco, Executive Director, Testimony before the House Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy, Expansion of Top Level Domains and its Effects on Competition, September 23, 2009.

Steve,

I do not believe Google shares your assessment above. Let me explain why. The more TLDs that are introduced to the market, the more servers Google (and other companies) will need to index the newly created websites on these new domains along with the additional buildings that the company will need to house these servers, the additional electricity that will be needed to run these servers, the additional labor that will be needed to maintain these servers, and the additional SG&A that will be allocated to such servers. From their perspective, the returns on indexing websites on newly created domains will probably not be as good as the returns on indexing websites that reside on the .COM, .NET, and .ORG domains. But, rest assured that the associated costs will still be the same. And, Google will likely feel compelled to index websites on the newly created domains for fear of giving up market share to its competitors.

If Google really wanted this expansion, then ask yourself why Google continues to operate http://www.google.la for the Country of Laos instead of the City of Los Angeles. Google has a pool of talent unlike any other company in the world, so I doubt that they mistakenly overlooked the fact that DOT-LA was licensed by LA Names Corporation several years ago for the City of Los Angeles. Put simply, it’s my humble opinion that Google doesn’t want to see an expansion such as the one you described in your recent statement to the U.S. Congress because it will increase their expenses probably without the requisite increase in revenues relative to other well known domains. So, the path that Google has taken is to operate http://www.google.la for the Country of Laos. If you don’t agree with my assessment, then ask them why http://www.google.la is being advertised as a search site for the Country of Laos. Ask them why they are not targeting the City of Los Angeles that would certainly offer greater returns and, in turn, help support the concept of adding other City TLDs that would lead to the expansion you described in your statement. I’ve made several attempts to get an answer from Google, but, they refuse to respond. Perhaps they’ll respond to you.

Ray Marshall

Kim Davies 09.28.09 at 7:37 am

Steve,

I am baffled. You said I quoted the opposite of what you said, then you repeat your same claim I was criticising that ccTLDs are controlled by governments. Are you claiming ccTLDs are controlled by governments, or that ccTLDs are not controlled by governments. You seem to argue the former, I am saying that is not correct.

FWIW, I was not at the hearing, I was just reading your prepared testimony.

Kim

Elisabeth Porteneuve 09.28.09 at 10:32 am

“IANA Staff wrote in 1994, that we assign country code top-level domains to trustees ”
Humm? How do you arrive to the above from the fact that Jon Postel wrote RFC1591 in 1994?

There was no ICANN in 1994, ICANN was created after Jon Postel passed away in October 1998.
Jon Postel was not ICANN’s staff.

Elisabeth

Elisabeth Porteneuve 09.28.09 at 12:40 pm

Sorry, I made a mistake. Need new glasses.

At that time IANA, which was a part time “task” had no legal personality, so reading about “IANA Staff” is very confusing …

It’s indeed true that local communities is not just local government, neither the opposite.

Elisabeth

Kim Davies 09.29.09 at 2:54 pm

Elisabeth,

I am not sure the distinction you are trying to make. IANA had no legal personality then, and has no legal personality now. I am not sure the fact it required less staff resources in the 1990′s than today changes the facts.

Kim

Kim Davies 09.29.09 at 2:55 pm

Jonathan,

Sorry, we don’t actively track the regulatory environments in each country in relation to their ccTLD operation. It is, however, an element of our evaluation when we receive a delegaton or redelegation request for a ccTLD.

Kim

Andrei 09.30.09 at 11:10 am

.RU domain which now goes beyond 2.300.000 runs by a non-profit organization and has nothing to do with government control. The organization itself counrols by the Board, elected from local internet activists every year. We demand IDN for Russia, simply because 70% of population uncomfortable with latin script. And we do have support from government on highest level. But it doesn’t mean we are under control.
As far as I know in China the situation is very similar with even greater percentage of non-latin users. So – what is the point? Is it demand of local communities or governments?

Jim 10.15.09 at 12:28 am

Great info, thanks for sharing.

Dasha Barinova 10.18.09 at 12:27 pm

Dear Kim,

Could you, please, comment on the results of a survey, conducted in 2004 by American professor Michael Geist, in which of all 189 ITU member states, 66 countries responded with:
43% retain ultimate control over their national domain
49% said they are, or are considering, placing the domain on more formal governmental footing
7% or indicated no formal governmental control in their ccTLD with no plans to alter the present situation

Source -http://www.itu.int/osg/spu/forum/intgov04/contributions/governmentsandcctldsfeb04.pdf

Thank you.

RJ Pastore 01.20.10 at 11:49 am

I find it extremely frustrating when there is limited access to contact ICANN. One can leave a general voice mail on the BLACKHOLE answer machine or send an email off in to cyberspace. It may as well go to outer space. I have written before and get no reply. How can the agency police the web when there is no conduit to send fraud complaints. This is typical of a bureaucracy to hide from the people it should be serving. We do pay the bill for you to exist, after all.

SKYPE is a fraud and takes outrageous liberties. Don’t install it in your computer!

Kjt 03.19.10 at 7:38 am

As far as I know in China the situation is very similar with even greater percentage of non-latin users. So – what is the point? Is it demand of local communities or governments?

KELECHI OKORIE 07.10.10 at 2:11 am

Well written but I can tell you that in Nigeria here, the case is entirely different. There has been a conflict in the country for years over the countries domain name .ng. Even the government could not resolve it as there are different interests, taking different sides. We think is time ICANN to help and resolve it for good

Joe Sniderman 07.12.10 at 3:43 am

Kim,
It seemed clear to me that your point that some are and some are not govt controlled was specifically in reference to the ccTLDs, rather than as a distinction between gTLDs and ccTLDs. Am I correct in my understanding?

Steve,
Did you get the opposite impression? Was your understanding that the determining factor was that of gTLD (what you call global label) vs ccTLD?

Maybe I’m missing something here, but just going by what you quoted here of your testimony it looks no different than what Kim said you said.

Steven 07.24.10 at 6:46 am

Thanks Kim.

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