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April 4, 2005

ITU and ICANN make plays for global domain firms

A struggle between the ITU and ICANN for the hearts and minds of the world's top-level domain name managers appears to be taking shape.

By CBR Staff Writer

The managers of the a few European country-code TLDs have started to express support for the authority of the International Telecommunications Union, the global treaty organization that is interested in taking over ICANN’s functions, on certain issues.

Meanwhile, ICANN yesterday said that it is starting to see more ccTLD managers become interested in entering into stable agreements with it, with more than 30 such managers currently in various stages of negotiation.

Bringing these international groups on board is one of ICANN’s core mission objectives, but it is arguably the area in which it has had the most difficulty over its seven years as the internet’s domain name system oversight body.

It is also the area where the ITU, which enjoys fairly stable relationships with most of the world’s governments and telecommunications companies, could see some support for its apparent goal of absorbing some or all of ICANN’s powers.

The ITU-ICANN power struggle has been developing over the last couple of years, but ITU has recently become more explicit in its intentions to eventually take over ICANN’s role.

Andrzej Bartosiewicz, head of DNS at of NASK, which administers Poland’s .pl ccTLD, said he will no longer talk to ICANN about internationalized domain names. IDNs are internet addresses that use non-ASCII, and therefore non-English character sets.

He said he will instead look to the ITU’s Telecommunications Standardization Bureau, known as ITU-T, as its standards authority on IDNs.

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NASK, according to Bartosiewicz, had a bad experience with ICANN when it tried to sell domain names using character sets such as Arabic, a completely different alphabet, and German, primarily ASCII but with some non-ASCII characters.

From my point of view ICANN has no competency to deal with IDNs, he told ComputerWire at ICANN’s meeting in Argentina. I don’t plan to discuss IDNs with ICANN any more. It does not have the skills to deal with standardization.

ITU-T, on the other hand, does have those abilities, Bartosiewicz said. He said ITU-T is changing a lot, and is putting internet-related topics such as IDNs at the forefront of its agenda for the coming years.

He added, however, that he has no complaints with how ICANN performs other critical functions relevant to the .pl ccTLD, such as managing the IANA database of ccTLDs or overseeing DNS root servers.

ICANN says it is also tasked with ensuring the secure and stable running of the internet’s naming and addressing systems, and that helping IDNs, a newish technology not widely available, run smoothly are an important part of that function.

Recently, for example, a new phishing threat emerged, where fraudsters could use an IDN loophole to send their victims to apparently genuine, but really fraudulent, web sites. ICANN is working on a policy-based solution to that problem.

According to Paul Kane, chairman of ccTLD industry association CENTR, the Council of European National TLD Registries, Poland’s problem is an example of ICANN mission creep preventing it forming stable relationships with ccTLDs.

For many ccTLDs, ICANN is a company that provides a service, Kane said. Namely, that when a ccTLD needs to change the information about its name servers or personnel, ICANN enables the whole internet to see the changes.

While stating that he supports ICANN and acknowledging that it is tasked with dealing with more than just ccTLDs, Kane said that the Polish IDN problem is representative of a broader concern that ICANN is trying to do more than it was intended.

I think there is a growing perception that ITU may be a good solution to certain problems, Bartosiewicz said. He said that currently he is looking to the ITU-T for guidance purely on the IDN and standardization matter.

Kane said he heard from the Swiss ccTLD delegation that it too had decided to express support for ITU, though we could not confirm that by press time yesterday. Austria too, rumor has it, is also planning to sign up for ITU-T.

Bartosiewicz said that his experience introducing Arabic characters to .pl taught him that countries not on friendly terms with the US are not keen to do business with ICANN, which is a California corporation with direct US government ties.

However, ICANN says it is making progress winning support from some of the more than 240 ccTLD managers, one of the tasks given to it by the US Department of Commerce, from which ICANN derives its responsibilities and powers.

Paul Verhoef, the ICANN vice president who heads up ICANN’s European office, told ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee yesterday that more than 30 ccTLD managers are interested in discussing such relationships.

We have 11 formal commitments to enter into discussions, he told the GAC, made up of government delegates from over a dozen countries. And we have 20 informal requests to enter discussions about these accountability frameworks.

Accountability frameworks are deals between ICANN and ccTLDs that spell out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. Previous versions of the agreements, of which there are about half a dozen, were called sponsorship agreements.

The ccTLDs have been reluctant to enter into these contracts before for, among other reasons, fear of diluting their control of their domains, or having to pay ICANN fees. But there’s still a lot of skepticism from some ccTLDs we spoke to this week.

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