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Domain name system (DNS)

Updates

11 Jan 2017

ICANN published the results of its annual survey measuring the satisfaction of IANA functions customers regarding the services they receive. In particular, the survey measures satisfaction in relation to documentation quality, process quality, transparency, timeliness, accuracy, reporting, and courtesy.The survey, which covered transactions completed between September 2015 and August 2016, showed that 99% of respondents were satisfied with the accuracy of their transactions, while 94% reported satisfaction in regard to transparency this year (an increase from 89 percent in the 2015 survey). In terms of satisfaction regarding process quality, the survey showed a drop to 89%, from 95% in 2015.

6 Jan 2017

ICANN and the US Department of Commerce have agreed to  terminate the Affirmation of Commitments (AoI), a 2009 document which outlined the two parties’ responsibilities towards each-other. Among its provisions, the AoI stressed out ICANN’s commitments to openness and transparency, and regular community reviews of its work. As noted by the US government, the termination of the agreement is a consequence of the completion of the IANA stewardship transition and the incorporation of the of the AoC framework into the revised ICANN bylaws.

4 Jan 2017

The legal battle over .africa continues, as DotConnectAfrica files another motion for a temporary retraining order to stop ICANN from delegating the string until the case is heard in court. The court agreed to consider new arguments as ground for the motion, with a hearing being set for 31 January. A similar application was denied by a Los Angeles judge in December 2016.

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The Domain Name System (DNS) handles Internet domain names (such as www.google.com) and converts them to Internet Protocol (IP) numbers (and the other way around). This makes it easier for Internet users to access locations in the Internet such as websites or blogs, by simply looking for the domain name of the website, instead of the IP number associated to it.

From an infrastrastructure point of view, the DNS consists of root servers, top-level domain (TLD) servers, and a large number of DNS servers located around the world.

The DNS includes two main types of top-level domains: generic top level domain (gTLD) and country code top level domains (ccTLD). gTLDs include domains such as .com, .info, .net, and .org. Since 2014, many new gTLDs have been introduced,  like .pub, . رازاب (bazaar), .rentals, .ngo, or .游戏 (game). While most gTLDs are open, allowing the registration of domain names by any interested individual or entity, there are other gTLDs that are restricted or reserved to specific groups; for example, .aero is limited to registrations from the air-transport industry. ccTLDs are designating specific countries or territories (such as .uk for the United Kingdom, .cn for China, and .br for Brazil).

 

Each gTLD and ccTLD is managed by a registry, whose main responsibility is to maintain and administer a database with all domain names registered in the respective TLD. For example, the .com gTLD is managed by VeriSign, while .uk is managed by Nominet. The actual registration of domain names, by end users (called registrants) is is carried through registrars. In the case of gTLDs, the registry and registrar functions are clearly separated. For some ccTLDs, the registry can also perform the function of registrar.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) ensures the overall coordination of the DNS by developing and implementing policies governing the operation and evolution of the system. For gTLDs, ICANN concludes agreements with registries (for the administration of each gTLD) and accredits registrars. ccTLDs have a special status, in that ICANN does not set rules for how they are administered and managed. There are, however, several ccTLD registries that have concluded some types of agreements with ICANN (such as accountability frameworks, memoranda of understanding, and exchange of letters), for the purpose of setting up high level principles for the relation between the two parties.

A sensitive aspect in the DNS management concerns the protection of trademarks and to related dispute resolution mechanisms. The first-come-first-served principle of domain name allocation used in the early days of the Internet triggered the phenomenon known as cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names for the purpose of reselling them later, especially to entities that have trademark rights over the names associated with the registered domain names. The Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) developed by ICANN and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) provides mechanisms that have significantly reduced cybersquatting.

Another important element is related to privacy and data protection in the context of domain names. Currently, registries maintain so-called WHOIS databases containing information about the registered domain names, including data about the registrants. With such information (name, email addresses, postal addresses, etc.) being publicly available, concerns have been raised, mainly by civil rights advocates, who have asked for a redesign of the WHOIS policy. Discussions on this matter have been held within ICANN for the past several years, and a process aimed at redesigning the WHOIS policy has been initiated.

DNS & the creation of new generic top level domains (gTLDs)

In 2012, after six years of consultations and development of a new policy, ICANN launched the new gTLD programme, opening up the Domain Name System beyond the 21 gTLDs existing at that point. Under the new programme, any organisation in the world could apply to run a new gTLD registry, including in non-Latin language scripts, as long as it complies with a series of criteria established in the so-called New gTLD Applicant Guidebook. The introduction of new gTLDs was received with enthusiasm by some stakeholders, who saw this programme as an opportunity to enhance competition and consumer choice in the domain name market. Others expressed concern, especially in relation to the protection of  trademarks in the context of the increasing number of gTLDs, and the potential need for trademark holders to undertake defensive registrations of domain names in multiple gTLDs, for the purpose of avoiding cybersquatting. Although the debate on the introduction of new gTLDs continues, the programme is up and running.

Intellectual property was not the only concern. Governments represented in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) have drawn attention to the need to implement measures that would ensure the protection of end users and would not harm market competition in the context of the delegation of new gTLDs. As an example, in the case of gTLDs representing regulated sectors (such as .bank and .pharm), governments have proposed measures aimed to ensure that only entities having the appropriate authorisations to operate in such sectors could register domain names in such gTLDs. The protection of geographical names and indicators appeared to be another area of concern: ICANN stopped the delegation process for .amazon to Amazon (the online retailer) after a strong opposition from Latin American countries in its Governmental Advisory Committee. The delegation of .wine/.vin has been intensively debated within the GAC, with countries such as Switzerland and France asking for measures that would prevent the ‘abusive registration’ of domain names representing names of wines for which geographical indications exist (in certain jurisdictions). When ICANN assigned .Africa to a consortium whose application had been endorsed by countries members of the African Union, this decision was contested by a private company.

Other controversies may continue to arise in relation to gTLDs for cultural and linguistic communities. In 2003, ICANN introduced a new .cat domain for the Catalan language – the first domain introduced for a language. This decision was not opposed by the Spanish government, but there could be cases where language and cultural communities requesting the same may have aspirations towards nationhood, and this aspect might cause potential controversy and conflict with existing states.

The management of country code top level domains (ccTLDs)

The management of ccTLDs involves three important issues. The first concerns the often politically controversial decision as to exactly which country codes should be registered when dealing with countries and entities with unclear or contested international status (e.g. newly independent countries, resistance movements). One controversial issue was the allocation of a Palestinian Authority domain name. In justifying its decision to assign the .ps TLD, IANA reiterated the principle of allocating domain names in accordance with the ISO 3166 standard for country codes, as was proposed by Jon Postel, one of the founding fathers of the Internet.

The second issue concerns who should manage ccTLDs. Currently, there are many registry models in place for ccTLDs. In some cases, the registry is a governmental entity (a national regulatory authority, a research institute within the government, etc). There are also countries where the government sets the rule for the management of the ccTLD, but leaves the actual administration in the hands of the private sector. In yet other instances, private companies manage the ccTLDs, with no involvement from the governmental side. In addition, there are several multistakeholder ccTLD registries, whose management structures include representatives of the various stakeholder groups.

If in the early days of the Internet, governments did not seem to be very interested in ccTLDs, things have changed lately, with some governments trying to gain control over their country domains, which they consider to be national resources. Transition (re-delegation) to a new institution managing the ccTLD (delegee) within each country is approved by ICANN only if there is no opposition from interested stakeholders within the country.

The third issue relates to the fact that ICANN imposes no rules as to who should manage ccTLDs, and how these should be managed. ICANN, through IANA, goes as far as delegating or redelegating ccTLDs on the basis of some high level guidelines aimed to ensure that the ccTLD registry is technically competent to manage it, with the support of the local community.

In 2005, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee adopted a set of Principles and Guidelines for the delegation and administration of country code top level domains, which were intended to serve as a guide to the relationship between governments, ccTLDs and ICANN. One of the key principles outlined in this document, which does not have a binding status, is subsidiarity, according to which ‘ccTLD policy should be set locally, unless it can be shown that the issue has global impact and needs to be resolved in an international framework’.

As mentioned above, several ccTLD registries have concluded some types of agreements with ICANN setting up high level principles for the relation between them. However, at the same time, some ccTLD operators have shown reluctance to become part of the ICANN system.

The creation of internationalised domain names (IDNs)

The Internet was originally a predominantly English-language medium. Through rapid growth, it has become a global communication facility with an increasing number of non-English-speaking users. For a long time, the lack of multilingual features in the Internet infrastructure was one of the main limits of its future development.

In May 2010, after a long testing period and political uncertainties, ICANN started approving TLDs in a wide variety of scripts, including Chinese, Arabic, and Cyrillic. IDNs have been introduced in several countries and territories as equivalent to their Latin country code top level domains (ccTLDs). For example, in China, 中国 has been introduced in addition to .cn, while in Russia, рф has been introduced in addition to .ru. IDNs are also part of ICANN’s new gTLD programme, allowing for the registration of new top level domains (gTLDs) in scripts other than the Latin one; for example, .сайт (website) and .онлайн (online) are among the new TLDs available to the public.

The introduction of IDNs is considered to be one of the main successes of the Internet governance regime. However, limitations remain, as universal acceptance is still a challenge when it comes to issues such as functional IDN e-mails and recognition of IDNs by search engines.

Transition of NTIA's role

On 14 March 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the USA announced its intention to transition its role and responsibilities with regards to the root zone and the IANA functions (which, besides the administration of the DNS root zone, includes responsibilities related to the Internet protocol parameters and allocation of Internet numbering resources). ICANN launched a global consultation process, coordinated by the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG), looking for a proposal to transition the stewardship of the IANA functions from the US government to the global multistakeholder community. Specific proposals from the three operational communities (the domain names community, the Internet numbers community, and the protocol parameter registries community) were incorporated by the ICG into a unitary proposal that was finalised in October 2015. In June 2016, the US government announced that the transition proposal meets the criteria necessary to complete the privatisation of the IANA functions. On 1 October 2016, the IANA functions contract between the US government and ICANN expired, and the stewardship of the IANA functions was transitioned to the global multistakeholder community.

Events

Instruments

Resolutions & Declarations

WHO Resolution 66.24 - 'eHealth Standardization and Interoperability' (2013)
ITU Resolution 133: Role of Administrations of Member States in the Management of Internationalized (Multilingual) Domain Names (2014)

Standards

Request for Comments (RFC) dealing with Domain Name Systems (2015)

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)

Resources

Multimedia

Mapping the Online World (2016)
IDN Infographic: Access Domain Names in Your Language (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Monocentric Cyberspace: The Primary Market for Internet Domain Names (2016)
Internet Fragmentation: An Overview (2016)

Reports

State of DNSSEC Deployment 2016 (2016)
Enabling Growth and Innovation in the Digital Economy (2016)
Middle East and Adjoining Countries DNS Study (2016)
Root Zone KSK Rollover Plan (2016)
World Report on Internationalised Domain Names (2015)
The Domain Name Industry Brief (2015)
Report of the Director General to the WIPO Assemblies (2015)
An Analysis of new GTLD Universal Acceptance in the Web Environment (2015)
SSAC Report on the IANA Functions Contract (2014)
EURid-UNESCO World report on Internationalised Domain Names Deployment 2012 (2012)
Impact on Root Server Operations and Provisions Due to New gTLDs (2012)
Infoblox DNS Threat Index

Other resources

Proposal to Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community (2016)
CCWG-Accountability Supplemental Final Proposal on Work Stream 1 Recommendations (ICANN Accountability proposal) (2016)
Advisory on Measurements of the Root Server System (2016)
The IANA Functions: An Introduction to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions (2015)
Root Zone Administrator Proposal Related to the IANA Functions Stewardship Transition (2015)
NTIA's role in Root Zone Management (2014)
Policy Brief on the Internet Root Zone (2014)
DNSSEC: Securing your Domain Names (2014)
Beginner’s Guide to Domain Names (2010)
The Internet Domain Name System Explained for Non-Experts (2004)
Statistics for New gTLDs
New gTLD Program Statistics
DNSSEC Deployment Report

Processes

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

Aspects related to the Internet architecture were touched on during the WSIS Forum. Internet Fragmentation (session 169) discussed the need to maintain an open, unique, and global Internet, and looked at various types of risks (of technical, governmental, or commercial nature) than can lead to Internet fragmentation. The expansion of the DNS with over 1000 new gTLDs was the focus of ICANN New gTLD Program Reviews and Lessons Learned (session 141). ICANN is currently undertaking reviews of the new gTLD programme (its impact on competition, consumer choice, rights protection, etc.). These are expected to inform a decision on whether and when there will be a new round of the programme.

In CCWG Accountability (session 186), the discussion focused on the IANA stewardship transition process and the related work on enhancing ICANN’s accountability, both processes being de- scribed as a remarkable example of a working multistakeholder model. The transition and accountability proposals were seen as a compromise reached by various stakeholders who shared the same goal: ensuring that, as the transition takes place, Internet technical functions continue to work well and ICANN becomes more accountable to the community. 

IGF 2015 Report

The discussions on the IANA transition during the IGF 2015 need to be looked at from the broader process which has been ongoing for the past few months. Specifically, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) recently completed its work (with only one outstanding item related to accountability), while the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) agreed on the development of the Triple E approach (engagement, escalation, and enforcement) and on the Sole Designator model.

At the IGF, two main discussions took place. The first was in relation to jurisdiction and the fact that ICANN is subject to the laws of California. Although the question was floated as to whether ICANN would serve the global public interest if it remained subject to California’s jurisdiction, the conclusions of the workshop on National and Transnational Internet Governance: Jurisdiction (WS 135) were quite clear. It was concluded that the stability of the existing operation of ICANN in California should not be disturbed, and that the few motivations for change are political and not realistic. In addition, the new arrangements which would see ICANN remain in the USA are sound. They allow for future change, but no change is foreseen. The discussion on jurisdiction continued during a parallel session on IANA Functions Transition: A New Era in Internet Governance? (WS 72).

In another discussion - Multistakeholder Internet Governance - IANA Stewardship (WS 163) - ICANN was urged to put more effort into ensuring greater diversity in its engagement process. Contributors to the ongoing process are not representative of the whole community, as statistics show that most contributors are from North America and Europe, whereas Africa and Latin America are hardly represented in the exercise. In addition, ICANN’s participation model is a challenge to some contributors; extended conference calls and time zone differences were among the examples used to urge ICANN to enhance its outreach programme. The next step is for CCWG-Accountability to publish a high-level overview of recommendations and a summary of changes from the second draft proposal.

 

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