TLD Principles

These principles are intended to be relevant to the broad range of InternetNZ's engagement with the Top Level Domain environment. They also provide assistance in evaluating potential changes proposed for management of the .nz country code Top Level Domain.

Top Level Domain principles

  1. Domain name markets should be competitive.
  2. Choice for registrants should be maintained and expanded.
  3. Domain registrations should be first come, first served.
  4. Parties to domain registrations should be on a level playing field.
  5. Registrant data should be public.
  6. Registry / registrar operations within a TLD should be split.
  7. TLD policy should be determined by open multi-stakeholder processes.

The principles in detail

Establishing a set of principles that is consistent with its objects ensures that our approach to TLD matters, is transparent and predictable. We have an agreed framework to apply to any decisions that need to be made.

These principles are intended to be relevant to the entire range of our engagement with the TLD environment. They are of use in determining the actions required from At Large status within the ICANN framework, in assessing the degree of participation InternetNZ takes in generic TLD policy debates; and in determining appropriate involvement in creating new Top Level Domains. These principles may also provide assistance in evaluating potential changes proposed for management of the .NZ top level domain.

There is no distinction drawn between the principles that apply to generic TLDs and those which apply to country code TLDs. These principles apply to both. There may be subsidiary principles that apply to country code TLDs given their special ties to a particular place and a particular national jurisdiction, and the consequent obligations to operate a country coed TLD in the public interest, but these form a subset of principles consistent with those set out in this paper.

The report sets out the background, assumptions made, a summary list of principles, explores each in more depth, notes some other issues to consider, and concludes with a few thoughts on wider propagation of the principles.

These principles have been tested and debated with InternetNZ members and their acceptability gained by consensus support. This means that the agreement of different principles, or of a different interpretation of a particular principle, may have flow-on effects to other principles or their interpretation. It may also result in the necessity to change InternetNZ’s positions in various international forums.

The principles are high-level, therefore they are broadly applicable to the diverse subject matter addressed by InternetNZ. They should accurately reflect the spirit of InternetNZ’s past work, relate to its present work and guide its future work. In this regard, the goal was to craft a set that is maximally complementary. Principles should be enduring, remaining relevant and applicable across environmental changes. These principles remain open for review from time to time to ensure their continued applicability for InternetNZ, its charitable aims and its work. There may be occasions where these principles may come into conflict with each other, which will require consideration of their application in the specific circumstances under which they arise.

Background

The global coordination of the Domain Name System (DNS) rests with ICANN, the U.S.-based non-profit corporation that provides the multi-stakeholder consensus based decision making framework for policy on domain name issues.

InternetNZ participates in the ICANN environment primarily because of its role as a ccTLD manager, for .NZ. InternetNZ takes interest in the broader work of ICANN, and has done since its foundation, as an organisation that can project New Zealand interests and values into the broader global policy debate on domain name and Internet issues.

InternetNZ has had some involvement with ICANN’s generic TLD processes, and as a contracted ICANN “At-Large Structure” (ALS) , has some obligation to take an interest in the gTLD environment on behalf of the local Internet community. With the forthcoming ICANN process to rapidly deploy many new generic TLDs in the global root, the importance of InternetNZ involvement is arguably greater than it has ever been.

InternetNZ is well respected in the ICANN environment because it is seen as a principled advocate for a coherent point of view. It operates the .NZ ccTLD in a manner consistent with the principles set out in this paper.

These are high level principles, and set out an ideal state which would represent the best possible framework for a TLD (given InternetNZ’s vision, mission and objectives). They provide an exacting measure with which to test InternetNZ’s administration of the .NZ ccTLD against current and future opportunities and developments within other areas of domain name policy.

Values

InternetNZ manages the .NZ ccTLD as a public good: it considers itself a trustee responsible on behalf of all the significantly interested parties in New Zealand for providing a secure and trustworthy domain name service. The values associated with public service – of responsibility and service to the community – are values that are at the core of InternetNZ’s identity.

These values are reflected in the principles set out in this paper. They form the background for InternetNZ’s engagement in the ICANN environment.

Assumptions

In developing these principles, we have regarded certain assumptions as axiomatic and as settled parts of InternetNZ policy. If these points are not widely held as beyond dispute, then there may be changes necessary to the principles to reflect the changed basis.

  • InternetNZ puts the best interests of the registrant at the heart of its analysis of TLD issues.
  • InternetNZ holds and will continue to hold the .NZ country code top level domain delegation.
  • InternetNZ manages .NZ on behalf of the local Internet community as a responsible trustee.
  • InternetNZ will remain engaged in the ICANN environment, with an adequate level of resources, to maintain the .NZ delegation and to advance these principles in the broader TLD arena.
  • InternetNZ generally supports adding new TLDs to the domain name system, to give more registrant choice, to allow registrants to choose between broader varieties of strings, and to increase competition between TLDs.
  • Policy decisions regarding TLDs must be consistent with the technology available to implement them. InternetNZ will not advocate for principles or policies that would require fundamental changes to the Internet’s operating technologies, or undermine the open Internet.

Principles: Summary

This section summarises the principles at a high level, along with any important explanatory points or caveats/restrictions. Full explanations are provided in the next section. The principles apply broadly to the entire TLD space or to any particular TLD, with the context being clear from the wording.

Domain name markets should be competitive.

  • Registrants should have a choice of registrars.
  • Registrars should be well-regulated with TLD policy frameworks that support real competition between them and equal treatment of registrars by the registry.
  • TLD administrators must require transparency for registrants.
  • Registrars should face a uniform pricing structure from registries.
  • Provided there is sufficient competition between TLDs, there is no particular concern with an administrator managing multiple TLDs.

Choice for registrants should be maintained and expanded.

  • A choice of strings (TLDs, and IDNs both at the TLD level and at lower levels) is an important choice for registrants to be able to make.
  • Choice of registrars is important as mentioned above.
  • Choice between a wide range of strings is more important than choice between fewer “well-managed” strings.

Domain registrations should be first come first served.

  • No banned names list within given TLDs.
  • Where disputes over a registration arise, they should be handled ex-post.
  • Dispute resolution should revolve on the principle of any legitimate rights to a name, rather than “greater” rights for any particular party.
  • No pre-qualification requirements should be required, and any sunrise period supports the first come first served principle (or uses the same dispute resolution as ex-post disputes).

Parties to domain registrations should be on a level playing field.

  • TLDs should not offer concessionary data or information to state or private agencies that the public cannot access.
  • An exception to this is where law enforcement authorities are investigating serious criminal matters. TLD managers should cooperate with them where evidence of wrongdoing is presented, and do so in a proportionate manner that follows due process and is consistent with the rule of law.

Registrant data should be public.

  • A free and publicly available register lookup service (such as WHOIS) should be maintained, with relevant authoritative information about the registrant, registrar and DNS servers for the domain.

Registry / Registrar operations within a TLD should be split.

  • Maintaining this separation is critical to protecting choice and competition for registrations and among registrars.
  • Two exceptions to this principle apply, where it can be shown there is no unfair competition arising for other registrars:
  • for a closed community TLD not taking independent public registrations (.google is an hypothetical example); or
  • where doing so addresses a market failure in the interests of significant stakeholders.

TLD policy should be determined by open multi-stakeholder processes.

  • Policy for top level domains, as for broader matters of Internet Governance, is best derived from multi-stakeholder dialogue that results in consensus based policy development.

Principles: Detail

1.         Domain name markets should be competitive.

Competition is a vital driver of good outcomes for domain name registrants. It drives a range of price, service and other options. In the domain name arena, choice between registrars is a fundamental driver of competition. Registrars should be operating on a level playing field, face low barriers to market entry, and operate under a uniform and appropriate regulatory framework that mandates transparency for registrants. This framework must include a flat fee per domain name month – no volume discounts should be countenanced, as such pricing forms a barrier to entry for prospective registrars.

Competition between TLDs also exists, with many options for registrants. Given the wide range of TLD choices available, InternetNZ does not believe that competition between TLD owners is always necessary. In other words, the principle does not require that TLDs aimed at similar markets be owned by different managers.

2.         Choice for registrants should be maintained and expanded.

Besides a competitive market generated by choice between registrars, registrants also need a choice of strings. Regardless of language and script, or whether they are open gTLDs, nationally or regionally based, or of other forms, a wide variety of TLD options lets people express themselves in the widest possible way, with few direct costs arising from an increased choice of strings.

As an aside, it is worth noting that having a wide variety of string choices reduces the need on the overall TLD framework to “enforce” a particular standard of governance on every TLD. While it is desirable from InternetNZ’s point of view that TLDs be governed on a multi-stakeholder, open and transparent basis, the greater the array of choice available to the public, the less important this becomes for any particular TLD because registrants have greater choice.

That said, ccTLDs are in a special position due to their unique obligations to serve a particular geography and their important role in a country’s national infrastructure. They must be governed in an appropriate manner, consistent with RFC1591.

3.         Domain registrations should be first come first served.

Free access to strings is best preserved by a “first come first served” doctrine for domain registrations within a TLD. Whatever level public registrations are allowed at, the registrant should be able to choose any free string, asserting on registration that they have the right to use that string.

There should be no pre-qualifications, banned names lists, sunrise registration periods, or any other steps where political or economic factors allow some registrants easy access to registration – or arbitrarily deny registrations to others. The exception is when a TLD is being launched or restructured, when a sunrise period may be used to protect the rights of existing registrants. In any such situation, disputes between applicants should be resolved on the same basis as ordinary ex-post disputes.

Where there is a dispute about a registrant’s right to a name, these should handled ex post by an independent dispute resolution service such as the .NZ Dispute Resolution System. Decisions should be made against known criteria, and there should be no possibility of parties to a dispute “shopping” among dispute resolution providers in hope of a better outcome. Dispute resolution should revolve on the principle of any legitimate rights to a name rather than “greater” rights. The courts of course retain their role as arbiter of last resort, should this be required.

4.         All parties to domain registrations should be on a level playing field.

TLD managers provide a narrow service to the public. Aside from their obligation to follow the law and to do what relevant authorities require of them, all parties should face equal treatment at all times.

In particular, there is no argument for special rights and privileges for any particular party, other than for authorities investigating serious criminal matters. Where the authorities give a TLD manager evidence of wrongdoing, the manager should be prepared to release information to those authorities following due process in the relevant jurisdiction, to the extent such release is proportionate to the scale of criminal wrongdoing being investigated and consistent with the rule of law.

5.         Registrant data should be public.

Registering a domain name is a public act, for provision of a useful service on the public Internet. All TLDs should maintain a public and free register lookup service (such as WHOIS), so that members of the public can contact a registrant or their registrar for technical, operational or other reasons.

TLD operators should of course maintain adequate security, restriction and monitoring of such WHOIS services, to prevent practices such as address harvesting. Registrants must use their own name or that of another legal entity for domain name registrations, and must include contact details through which they can be reached. They do not necessarily have to use their own personal or residential contact details, which they may wish to keep private.

6.         Registry / Registrar operations within a TLD should be split.

A competitive market between registrars cannot be maintained if the registry operator also participates in the market as a registrar for that TLD. The risk is that the registry will unfairly advantage its own registrar operation, through differential service quality, information provision, access to its competitor’s information, or other discrimination. There is a clear conflict of interest in doing so. As a general principle, therefore, registries should not operate registrars and should not have relationships with registrants themselves.

Two exceptions to this principle are worth mentioning, where they do not have a negative impact on competition between all registrars. The first is where a TLD is designed to be offered only to a closed community: for example, if Google Inc was to obtain the TLD “.google”, to use for their own corporate purposes and without public registrations (or only registrations as part of their suite of services), the demand for competition does not apply with the same force. The second is where the registry providing a registrar operation is designed to facilitate competition between registrars in the TLD’s market, and as such is in the interests of significant stakeholders. This could require an operational separation (not necessarily a legal entity separation) of the registrar operation from the registry’s core business to prevent inappropriate information flows or behavioural incentives affecting the registry’s operation.

7.         TLD policy should be determined by open multi-stakeholder processes.

ICANN is an example of open, transparent, multi-stakeholder policymaking. This is the best way to ensure that the expertise, interests and perspectives of all significant stakeholders in TLD policy can be understood, tested and incorporated in the policies that apply to top level domains.

This model is the best model to govern the future growth and development of the Internet, including TLD policy. No party has a right to a greater say: if the decision-making framework gives undue priority to any particular party, it undermines the prospect of the best policy emerging in the interests of the entire TLD community.

The US Government (“International Strategy for Cyberspace” May 2011), the G8 countries (“G8 Deauville Communiqué on Internet Issues” June 2011) and more recently the OECD have all pledged support for the global multi-stakeholder, equal participation in Internet Governance.

Other considerations

In dealing with TLD issues, it is important to note the widely acknowledged success of the .NZ governance model, and the recognition it has achieved internationally as a competitive and stable model for administering a TLD.

The success of that model and its careful representation in the international TLD environment is at the core of InternetNZ’s influence as an advocate within the ICANN system. One of the reasons for that is that the .NZ ccTLD operates in a manner consistent with the principles set out in this paper.

We also note that a critical success factor for .NZ, and one to continue InternetNZ’s support of in the global environment, is the separation between the operations of a TLD and the setting of the policy framework under which it operates.

During late 2011 and early 2012 these principles were published and debated by the InternetNZ membership. While consensus support prevailed it is noted that this consensus was not unanimous for every principle. We believe however that they have met a threshold for InternetNZ Council to consider adopting these as a final and working set of principles.

The Council resolved to adopt these principles at its meeting in May 2012 (RN 43/12).

Appendix A – InternetNZ’s role as an ICANN “At Large Structure” (ALS)

About ICANN’s "At Large" community: http://www.atlarge.icann.org/announcements/announcement-23may05.htm

InternetNZ became the 57th recognised "At Large Structure" on 16 May 2006

Key criteria on ALSs: www.atlarge.icann.org/correspondence/structures-app.htm

Criteria for an At-Large Structure:

  • Commit to supporting individual Internet users' informed participation in ICANN by distributing to individual constituents/members information on relevant ICANN activities and issues, offering Internet-based mechanisms that enable discussions of one or more of these activities and issues among individual constituents/members, and involving individual constituents/members in relevant ICANN policy development, discussions and decisions.
  • Be organised so that participation by individual Internet users who are citizens or residents of countries within the Geographic Region in which the ALS is based will predominate in the ALS' operation. The ALS may permit additional participation by others that is compatible with the interests of the individual Internet users within the region.
  • Be self-supporting (not rely on ICANN for funding).
  • Post on the Internet (on the ALAC's website or elsewhere) publicly-accessible, current information about the ALS's goals, structure, description of constituent group(s)/membership, working mechanisms, leadership, and contact(s).
  • Assist the RALO in performing its function.

InternetNZ is therefore an ALS belonging to the Asia Pacific Regional At Large Organisation (APRALO). One other New Zealand based organisation, the Maori Internet Society, is also a recognised ALS within ICANN and participant in APRALO.
 

Appendix B – RFC1591: Domain Name System Structure and Delegation

Requests for Comment (RFC’s) provide the basis for Internet standards, and are created through the global multistakeholder group, the Internet Engineering Task Force. RFC1591 was created in March 1994 and provides policies and guidelines for the operation of TLDs, and some specific requirements applicable to ccTLDs. Issues of relevance to InternetNZ’s Principles on new TLDs follow:

  • The country code domains (for example, FR, NL, KR, US) are each organized by an administrator for that country.
  • These administrators are performing a public service on behalf of the Internet community.
  • The major concern in selecting a designated manager for a domain is that it be able to carry out the necessary responsibilities, and have the ability to do an equitable, just, honest, and competent job.
  • These designated authorities are trustees for the delegated domain, and have a duty to serve the community.
  • The designated manager is the trustee of the top-level domain for both the nation, in the case of a country code, and the global Internet community.
  • Concerns about "rights" and "ownership" of domains are inappropriate. It is appropriate to be concerned about "responsibilities" and "service" to the community.
  • The designated manager must be equitable to all groups in the domain that request domain names.
  • No preferential service for customers of a particular data network provider.
  • Significantly interested parties in the domain should agree that the designated manager is the appropriate party.
  • In cases when there are persistent problems with the proper operation of a domain, the delegation may be revoked, and possibly delegated to another designated manager.

The full text of RFC1591 is available at www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1591.txt