Country code Top Level Domain-names - ccTLD - history in the making


ccTLD-ICANN Meeting in Geneva, 19 February 2001

Elisabeth Porteneuve



This document conveys some personal opinions and thoughts of its author. Information gathered here comes from more than twenty years of personal work on making international networking happen, from various documents still available on line, as well as from discussions with many Internet colleagues.



The path from a technical research network to political issues


The Internet has been developing for years without being perceived, initially as a collaborative work between research and education communities. The business world started to mention Internet when the projection of its economical impact became to be significant. The political world started to mention commercially deployed Internet when discovering its extraordinary capability of communication in the global village, transforming every aspect of life. The major date from business perspective is the US Congress decision in 1992 giving the National Science Foundation the statutory authority to allow commercial activity on the NSFNET, which subsequently led to the NSF agreement with the Network Solutions, Inc. and the annual fees for domain names registration and maintenance.


Quiet path between 1985 to 1994, slippery road in 1996-97


The first country code TLD has been registered in 1985, the whole list of ISO 3166-1 2-letter codes has been exhausted before the US Government issue its White Paper in June 1998. The registration of ccTLD was very slow at its initial stage, when correlated to the connectivity deployment towards new countries.

The deployment in 1990’s is still recorded on Larry Landweber site, starting from

 September 1991 map and ending with June 1997 the later indicating NUMBER OF ENTITIES WITH INTERNATIONAL NETWORK CONNECTIVITY = 195


The NSF-NSI agreement initiating payment for domain names under .com/.org/.net arrived in the end of 1992. When Jon Postel published its RFC1591 describing TLD system in March 1994, already 111 ccTLD has been recorded in the Internic database. The distribution indicated in the table below is extracted from The list of ccTLDs in chronological order of Top Level Domain creation at the Internic is provided in


YYYY Nb ccTLDs created Total

 1985         3         3

 1986         7        10

 1987         9        19

 1988         9        28

 1989         8        36

 1990        11        47

 1991        22        69

 1992        17        86

 1993        23       109

 1994        22       131

 1995        29       160

 1996        31       191

 1997        47       238

 1998         2       240


US collect 15 USD tax per domain name worldwide for the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund


Since the NSF-NSI agreement, the economic success of the NSI started. Between 1995 and 1997 the nominal registration fee of US $35 has been increased by a tax of US $15 per domain name, which was to be deposited in the Intellectual Infrastructure Fund. The total benefit of 23 million dollars, gathered alike from US and non-US customers at IIF has been subsequently used for the Internet 2 project.


Need to understand the Internet jungle and its absolute powers islands


The NSI economic success, the increasing popularity of domain names, and the complete lack of competition in their registration could not last. Eventually a very long process of understanding of Internet jungle, discovery of some of its absolute powers islands, analysis, and clarification started.


White Paper and the beginning of responsibility


The White Paper published by the US Government in June 1998 was aimed to solve the immediate problems related to the NSI registration monopoly and to the intellectual property problems related to the domain names. This document is strongly oriented towards gTLD problems, the ccTLD name is mentioned twice.

First, in a brief description of the domain name space: “More than 200 national, or country-code, TLDs (ccTLDs) are administered by their corresponding governments or by private entities with the appropriate national government's acquiescence. A small set of gTLDs do not carry any national identifier, but denote the intended function of that portion of the domain space.”

Second, in a description of transition of leadership for DNS management to the private sector: “Of course, national governments now have, and will continue to have, authority to manage or establish policy for their own ccTLDs.”


Privatization of old ccTLD Registries, Far West in some ccTLD


Let’s go back to the pioneers of Internet. When the first ccTLDs were created in the mid of 1980’s, every task was deployed by scientist and engineers, at no cost. The translation of a domain name into an IP address used by transmission protocols was anything but facility to remember. Whereas the NSF-NSI agreement created a first commercial registry for .com/.org/.net in 1993, it took several years more to transform the initial ccTLD structures attached to Universities or research labs into legal entities, mostly into not for profit incorporated registries: Nominet .uk in 1996, AFNIC .fr and Denic .de in 1997 are among the first ones. At the end of the year 2000 this process of transformation within the old ccTLD group is far from being terminated, often it is in the understanding and study phase. Only a few tens of the old ccTLDs got already a legal structure in their countries. In the meantime, many of ccTLDs recorded in the Internic database by IANA in 1996-1997, when the rush for gold started, have been set up as commercial registries, competing with the .com/.org/.net on the international market. Some of these ccTLDs are using the country-code umbrella as protection from the global rules being established within ICANN and related to the .com/.org/.net. It allows them to take only a part of ICANN established obligations (usually the UDRP procedures concerning the domain names disputes are endorsed), but to escape from an open competition, registrars agreements, escrow of database and mandatory whois information. Some of these ccTLDs are located outside of the corresponding ISO 3166-1 countries or territories, and are questioned by the appropriate national government's whilst claiming to the world the defense and dedication to the local population. It shall be noted that a scarce number of ccTLDs are indeed helping in politically difficult situation, or at least thinking to do so. As a general it is unknown which country, if any, get corporate and revenue taxes paid by truly off shore registries collecting money worldwide, especially from companies taking care of their intellectual property patrimonies. Another phenomena appeared recently, such as marketing some ISO 3166 country names under other identity. Apparently it is enticing to market .mn for Minnesota, or .la for Los Angeles, odds are if the population living in these countries know about it and endorse their national names diverted this way, or if it is rather perceived as a new form of colonization via Internet.


Unrealistic USG assumption


Whereas almost one year was necessary to set up the new ICANN and simultaneously prepare the NSI contract, it was curiously assumed by both USG and ICANN that 242 ccTLD international contracts with ICANN would happen without effort. Quite unrealistic assumption, when one take into account the large heterogeneous international group and the open hostility of some ccTLD managers very comfortable in the old undefined situation.


Old IANA was not a sacred wonderful world


The old IANA was not an ideal body. The old IANA was one man show, doing whatever he felt appropriate (and certainly as honestly as he could and as long as pressure was not too strong). But it is worth to note that there was no transparency, no place to discuss or challenge some dictatorial decisions.  We may guess that the language advantage was of decisive importance (a contrario -- if there were no advantage of IANA decisions in 1996-1997 to native English speakers, the ratio of questionable delegations to native English speakers and to non-native English speakers would be similar). Jon Postel was sometime abused. Four known IANA’s mistakes happen with .je, .gg, .im and .ac (four UK territories - Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Ascension Island), taken from ISO3166 reserved list. Subsequently the ISO Maintenance Agency suppressed the publication of ISO reserved codes on its web site.


ICANN responsibility is welcomed


When the USG issued the White Paper issued in June 1998, calling for a legal international entity, the very large international Internet community welcomed it wholeheartedly. From the ccTLD perspective ICANN is a well defined framework allowing for a better communication, an open, transparent and well recorded ccTLD-relate information, a mandatory geographic diversity and hopefully language diversity. The translation of important rules, documents or request for proposals into several languages, is the only way to have the Internet knowledge shared, well understood. It is a preamble to allow for an open worldwide competition of the private sector related to Internet management, preventing the “digital divide” or the “re-colonization” in the Internet space.


Difficult road for ccTLD to get organized within ICANN process


Several ccTLD members deployed much energy and enthusiasm in the in the ICANN Bylaws definition and in the DNSO definition. It was sometimes driven by the generosity, sometimes by an individual interests or vanity, never easy in the jungle of various and complex contradictions. The DNSO Formation Concepts were achieved with an apparent strong ccTLD support, in Madonna-like style in Singapore, 4 March 1999, cf. .

The ccTLD set up in Berlin, after a painful noisy meeting with plenty of unknown speakers, was submitted to the ICANN Board on 25 May 1999, cf. . Subsequently the ccTLD elections to the Names Council in August 1999 did not respect the geographic diversity requirement in ICANN Bylaws, and degenerated later on into permanent conflict situation with ICANN staff, sustained by one or two European ccTLD leaders.


The structure created with enormous impact from ccTLD does not give them any chance for ICANN Board seat


The outcome of September 1999 DNSO elections to the ICANN Board gave two important lessons to the ccTLD group. First one, that the ccTLD leadership shall be collectively build up and shared between individuals from various geographic regions to achieve the group strength (which will simultaneously fulfill ICANN Bylaws criteria). Second, that it may happen that the DNSO Constituencies design (in which the ccTLDs had a big say, therefore share the responsibility) will not allow for a ccTLD candidate to get elected to the ICANN Board when facing the strong coalition of gTLD, Registrars, IP, Business and ISP interests.


Discouraged ccTLD on the way forward


In 2000 the ccTLD group started to work on its own structure, with tremendous difficulties from some of its elected leaders, not resigning, not participating, and dead-locking any positive action. Despite that bad faith the group succeeded to set up an Interim Secretariat, to gather some funds, to organize meetings, to bring back to life its web site. To draft Articles of Association, to work on Best Practices, study funding model, rise enthusiasm for documents translation into various languages, and rise an overall participation. In September 2000 the new ccTLD delegates were elected to the Names Council.


Unrealistic financial expectations from ICANN


Whilst the ccTLD group have been facing its internal problems, it missed to assume its own responsibility and work on a possible relationship with ICANN as well as on deciding of its ICANN funding model. The ICANN staff added some more burdens to the ccTLD difficulties. First of all, the presidential Task Force on Finances in 1999, with 3 delegates selected by ICANN CEO and President, did approve the ccTLD share of 35% of ICANN Budget, approximately 1.5 million USD per annum. This amount of money imposed on ccTLD was unrealistic, as evidenced by the actual total contributions of ccTLD to budget to date (900 thousand USD). The year 2000 ICANN Budget discussion proved to be a complete misunderstanding between ccTLD and ICANN, for few basic reasons. ICANN considered for granted than the 3 representatives randomly selected by ICANN CEO and President may commit on behalf of the group. ICANN considered for granted the ccTLD willingness to pay for nothing, no service, no staff dedicated to IANA function and IANA database, no information, no formal relationship. ICANN turned away the ccTLD consensus-appointed representatives from the face-to-face budget meeting in Cairo. Such a disastrous record is now graven in the ccTLD memory. In 2001 the ccTLD NC delegates issued a communique

in advance to the discussions on the ICANN budget for new fiscal year requesting for the complete reconsideration of budget shares.

For 2 years 90% of ICANN funds has come from the DNSO Constituencies, and only from three of them: Registrars, gTLD, ccTLD, whilst the remaining four do not fund ICANN at all: Business, ISPCP, IPC and NCDNH. Please bear in mind, that according to the ccTLD experience in DNSO election to the ICANN Board, the ccTLD Constituency, while requested for 1.5 million USD per annum, has no chance to be represented face to coalitions from Registrars, gTLD, Business, ISPCP, IPC.

The ccTLD Constituency called ICANN to explore new allocations to its budget, to equilibrate a share of contribution between Domain Names and IP Addresses, and from not contributing groups of interest within the DNSO.

Furthermore the ccTLD does not consider fair to share US-lawyers burden related to inavoidables disputes concerning new gTLDs or registrars  (but does understand perfectly than ICANN as a private company has to defend itself, therefore colossal cost of Jones Day Reavis & Pogue). The cost inherent to gTLDs or registrars shall be covered by them, according to any scheme they may consider appropriate. The cost inherent to ccTLD shall be covered by ccTLD. And there is certainly the cost of running an organization, which shall be paid by all ICANN SO's.


The outstanding issues for ccTLD group


1. Each ccTLD manager is facing more and more obligations, which are an unwanted complicated responsibility, a "string attached" to the initial "technical package" of registration of domain names. Is it reasonable to expect to escape such obligations as data protection, whois information, data escrow, domain disputes ?

2. Estimate the distribution of fair dues to ICANN among ccTLD members, based on some tangible information related to domain names economical activity. There is a lot of ccTLD (Europeans) not willing to provide any statistical information on their activity, trying to forbid anybody in building up a financial scheme related to a domain name number. It looks silly, but how to change it ?

3. To devise an wwTLD organization, either as a ccSO or as an advisory committee to ICANN

4. Outreach and awareness. Visit and bring to the group each and every ccTLD Registry. Custodianship of IANA database, preserve all records from the past for the future – project


The “root servers” mystery and hidden power islands, ccTLD are concerned

The CENTR folks have been working on "contract for root service", assuming that there is somewhere a contract between ICANN and "root operators". Last news indicate that the 13 lonesome cowboys were now prepared to sign contracts with ICANN as they would receive legal liability protection from ICANN. They do not want payment for running the services at this time, but will continue as it is. Two root servers ("j" and "l") are being scheduled to be moved outside of the US (see the root list at the end). I do not like much this situation, because it means that the root servers distribution in the world will be dealt behind doors, and as usually, this apparently small technical activity is of huge importance.

There is a very high level of competencies in Europe in Ipv6 networking (the first Ipv6 European test bed has been deployed in the mid 1990’s, between 3 sites including INRIA in France) and there is still no root server using Ipv6 in a native way. It is important to have one of root servers installed on the European continent.



see also

     name org       city                    type   url

      a   InterNIC  Herndon, VA, US         com

      b   ISI       Marina del Rey, CA, US  edu

      c   PSInet    Herndon, VA, US         com

      d   UMD       College Park, MD, US    edu

      e   NASA      Mt View, CA, US         usg

      f   ISC       Palo Alto, CA, US       com

      g   DISA      Vienna, VA, US          usg

      h   ARL       Aberdeen, MD, US        usg

      i   NORDUnet  Stockholm, SE           int

      j   (TBD)     (colo w/A)               0

      k   RIPE      London, UK              int

      l   (TBD)     (colo w/B)               0

      m   WIDE      Tokyo, JP               int