By Nick Patience
The company that runs the national domain name registry on behalf of the government of the Pacific island of Niue has signed an open-ended agreement to provide the population of the islands and its nationals abroad with free internet email indefinitely from the proceeds of registration in the country’s .nu top-level domain. In addition, it will fund the replacement the current dial-up modem link with a satellite-based service. Bill Semich, president of .NU Domain Ltd, the company that manages the domain believes this commitment proves that the national registries can be run to benefit the local community, which is part of a much larger ongoing debate in the internet community. There are some controllers of country-code top-level domains ccTLDs that want the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to have little say over how they run their domains. That’s fine, says Semich, if the government is democratic and run largely for the benefit of the country’s population. But some governments could quite easily contract out national registries to a company, as Niue has done here, and then pocket all the money, not using any of its to expand the country telecommunications and internet infrastructure. The .nu registry is part of a group called the International Association of Top Level Domains (IATLD), representing 73 national registries, which as Semich pointed out in a recent open letter to the domain name community, comprises mostly of developing countries and includes China, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Egypt and Namibia. As always there are rival groups with differing views, mainly CENTR, a grouping of 36 European registries, which generally want their governments to have a greater say in the running of their respective national registries. Semich and the IATLD want ICANN to include a requirement in their regulations that all national registries abide by a set of guidelines drawn up in March 1994 by Jon Postel, who ran the predecessor to ICANN before his death last October. In the document, called RFC 1591, Postel says that the designated managers of the domains have a duty to serve the community, and it is appropriate to be concerned about ‘responsibilities’ and ‘service’ to the community, above all other considerations. In other words, the administration of the national registry should benefit the community the registry serves. Semich is worried that governments will not want to deal with ICANN and will follow their own course. Semich says he has had a really good response to the letter, which urged the community to listen to the IATLD’s concerns. He says he is fairly confident the RFC 1591 stipulations will end up in the bylaws of the soon- to-be-formed domain name supporting organization (DNSO) that will advise the ICANN board on domain name policy. He has had responses from CENTR and an ICANN board member, among others. A meeting was held in Paris over the past two days at which the IATLD was represented, along with CENTR, Network Solutions, International Chamber of Commerce, Asia-Pacific TLD registries, Council of Registrars (CORE) and the Open Root Server Confederation (ORSC). They talked about how the various ideas for forming the DNSO can be unified, because submissions for the DNSO bylaws are supposed to be with ICANN by tomorrow, February 5. Although there are only about 300 computers and 2,000 people living on the island of Niue, which lies due east of Fiji, the children of the island finish their schooling in Australia and New Zealand, and most leave the island for work on those countries and further afield. So there are thousands spread around the world, who also benefit from the free internet access. Semich says the .NU registry is registering about 3,000 names per month, compared with nearby New Zealand, which has very high per capita internet usage and is currently running at about 1,000 per month.