Clarifying the .nz stewardship framework - a Memorandum of Understanding

Jordan CarterA blog post from Jordan Carter, Chief Executive of InternetNZ
2 May 2016

InternetNZ was founded in the 1990s with a purpose of being a voice for the Internet community. Under the global policy framework for the domain name system, individuals, organisations, or sometimes governments in each country, were given the job of running the local ccTLD in the interests of the local Internet community.

As part of fulfilling InternetNZ's purpose, we were asked by the Internet community to take responsibility for the management of the .nz country code top level domain or ccTLD. We started doing that job in the late 1990s, taking over from Waikato University, and have done so ever since. First through a combined registry/registrar then called Domainz, and then from 2002 with our in-house registry NZRS and with our .nz management and policy agency, the Domain Name Commission. InternetNZ is the steward of the .nz domain, the community organisation which holds it on trust for the New Zealand Internet community.

Since the early 2010s, there have been discussions on and off about how government recognises that role - both within New Zealand and in the global context. A long-standing working group completed a Framework of Interpretation on ccTLD governance questions last year, with our own Keith Davidson leading the initiative. RFC 1591 remains the founding policy document agreed globally, and the inspiration for how we manage .nz.

In New Zealand, aside from some correspondence from the late 1990s about our role, there's no clear framework in which government and InternetNZ acknowledge our relationship and our respective roles - as stakeholders in the .nz ccTLD's successful operation, and in InternetNZ's case as the steward responsible to the broad Internet community. Various parties talked occasionally about re-stating, clarifying and making the relationship more transparent from time to time.

In 2014, that process got a boost with Communications Minister, Amy Adams, taking an interest. And so a discussion began, with the key conversations happening between Domain Name Commissioner Debbie Monahan, NZRS Chief Executive Jay Daley and myself on the InternetNZ side of the table - and officials in the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment on the Government's side. At a measured pace, and keeping Council and the subsidiary Boards in the loop, and officials doing the same with the Minister, we developed a text to the point that it is now ready to be signed.

This Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be a document that evolves and is updated over time. It opens by referencing the global policy framework noted above. It notes the principles by which InternetNZ guides the operation of .nz. It sets out the roles and expectations of MBIE, and of InternetNZ, in the operation of the .nz ccTLD. It records InternetNZ's commitment to transparency in its management of .nz.

Importantly, this MoU sets out a clear process about how any concerns over the management of .nz can be dealt with, both by Government and by extension by other key stakeholders. There's a clear path for issues or problems to be recognised, discussed and resolved. In a situation of un-solveable and serious problems, InternetNZ's commitment to be a responsible manager has always extended to the ability to transfer .nz to another steward, if there is a broad Internet community consensus that a) we weren't managing .nz consistent with the RFC1591 framework and b) a better local manager exists that would do so.

We're happy to state for the record, and in the MoU, that InternetNZ does not "own" .nz - we are the steward on behalf of the Internet community. This is entirely consistent with the way we have managed .nz and the rulebook we have followed, RFC1591, and so this is not changing our stance but documenting it clearly for the first time.

There is one new element – a commitment to work testing the Internet community's views on various policy issues (through, for instance, public opinion polls) and sharing the results back with the community. This will help InternetNZ's policy, community and focus areas work, and will help the Internet community learn more about their own views on a range of issues. We'll start that work in 2016/17, with the recently adopted Activity Plan including funding for it.

Overall, the MoU represents a clear and positive statement of how .nz is managed, and the application of the global policy framework set out in RFC1591 to New Zealand's specific environment. It's a first cut at documenting that relationship.

I'm pretty excited about getting to this point. The MoU is a document that InternetNZ and the Government can both be proud of. It sets out the best recognition we are aware of globally about the roles of Government and of ccTLD managers in the operation of a country code domain. It will be an example to be shared and one that will hopefully be taken up by other countries that share the 'community control' model for ccTLDs with New Zealand.

We are currently in the process of signing the MoU. Once signed, it'll be published on the InternetNZ website. It will provide a clear reference point for anyone who has the question in mind - "why does InternetNZ manage .nz, and how does that all work?"

Feedback from members and the public will shape how the MoU evolves over time. So think of this as a step on the road of good stewardship for .nz – not an end-point or some kind of final decision. I'm looking forward to sharing it with you and seeing what you think.