Domain group revolts against Icann

Operators of country code domains - including .uk - say they want more say in Icann's decision making
Written by Juliana Gruenwald, Contributor

The operators of the Internet domain names designated for countries around the world voted on Friday to withdraw from a key organisation that helps set policies for the group that manages the Internet's Domain Name System.

During the opening day of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' quarterly meeting, a working group of the operators of the country-code top level domains (ccTLDs), such as .uk or .fr, voted unanimously to pull out of Icann's Domain Name Supporting Organisation (DNSO). They also called on Icann to create a separate supporting organisation that would provide the ccTLD operators with more say in Icanns decision making and give them at least one seat on Icann's board of directors.

"We don't believe we got much from the DNSO," said William Black, managing director at Nominet UK, which manages the country code, .uk, for the United Kingdom. "We want a more meaningful" role within Icann.

The ccTLD operators have been in discussions for several months with Icann aimed at developing agreements to better define their relationship. It was picked in 1998 by the US government to take over management of the Internet's DNS. In that role, Icann plays a key role in establishing policies that affect so-called generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .com, .net and .org, those targeted at Internet users all over the world.

While Icann does not make policy decisions for ccTLD operators, it is responsible for providing some technical tasks for them. In exchange, Icann has called on the ccTLD operators to provide as much as one-third of the organisation's funding. There are about 250 ccTLD operators around the world, though many are not active in the Icann process.

The ccTLD operators say they have made much progress in their talks with Icann. Still, they have long complained about their role within the DNSO, which is primarily focused on policies that affect global domain names. At the same time, the DNSO itself has been criticized by some as largely ineffective.

Icann has two other supporting organisations that provide advice on technical issues. Each supporting organization gets three seats on Icanns 19-member board.

"The DNSO is broken," said Nigel Roberts, the operator of the Channel Islands ccTLD, .gg. "We have tried over the years to work within the process. It's clear for a number of reasons it is not going to work."

Icann board member Rob Blokzijl said he supports the ccTLD operators' demand for their own supporting organisation, adding that it is something they should have called for a long time ago.

Still, Icann is not expected to act on the ccTLD operators' demand at its board meeting on Monday, said Icann president M Stuart Lynn.

While declining to say whether Icann would agree to their demand, Lynn acknowledged that the ccTLD operators "provide a significant proportion of funding [for Icann] and should have their voice effectively heard within the structure" of Icann.

However, the ccTLD operators' call for seats on the Icann board could prove controversial if it forces another group to give up some of their seats, particularly if they come from the nine seats originally allocated to Internet users at large. Icann is conducting a study about whether general Internet users, as opposed to those that represent business or another constituency, should have seats on the board.

Consumer groups, academics and others have been critical of any moves to eliminate these "at-large" board seats. Internet users from around the world were given an opportunity last fall to elect five of the nine at-large members to the Icann board. But Icann has yet to say whether four others also will be elected. Those four seats are currently held by four of the original nine members appointed to the Icann board when it was created nearly more than two years ago.

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