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Time to Redelegate IE Namespace?

I’ve written extensively about Ireland’s country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) ‘.ie’ and its current registry operator IE Domain Registry (IEDR) in the past. While I’ve always tried to be fair and balanced in my coverage of the issues facing the IE namespace, I’m afraid my patience with the current registry operator has worn thin.

While things may have improved over the course of the last few years, it is becoming abundantly clear that the current registry operator is probably not the best organisation to manage the ccTLD in the future.

Comreg (the Irish Communications regulator) organised external consultants to conduct a comprehensive review of the IEDR’s operations at every level. Although the report was submitted to Comreg before Christmas 2007 it still has not been published and is unlikely to see the light of day at this juncture.

More recently Comreg requested feedback based on the unpublished report’s points (the logic behind this kind of thing escapes mere mortals, so you’re not alone if you thought that was a weird thing to do!), yet nothing has been published.

Of course Comreg’s track record in terms or regulating the various industries within its remit hasn’t exactly been stellar, so maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised.

So what is the current situation in IE?

If you were to rely on their annual report for that kind of information you’d probably end up with a rather twisted version of events.

At present there is no policy development process within IE.

While policy can change there is no clear way for stakeholders to propose changes or follow their development.

If a policy proposal is made and in many cases this appears to be provoked by something “upsetting” the registry operator, then the IEDR may pay lip service to consulting stakeholders. However consultation in their eyes and consultation for everyone else are often at odds with each other.

One recent change that has had a very negative impact on stakeholders was the registry’s unilateral decision to practically do away with “conditional acceptances”. That a domain could be “provisionally accepted” in the first place is a reflection of the archaic and unwieldy rules and procedures in place.

If you query how things operate you are most likely to get a rather inane response about how things have always been that way or that nobody “considered” a particular issue to be important enough to deal with.

Most of the ccTLD’s registration rules are ambiguous and open to subjectivity.

Since the “awarding” of a domain name relies almost entirely on the registry’s staff subjective interpretation of the policies the end result is that prospective registrants and registrars are constantly locked in an unending game of “Russian roulette”, though in many respects it’s even worse, as you don’t know how many chambers have been loaded.

In this kind of environment, with vague rules and no policy development, the incumbent registry operator now wants to introduce even more bureaucracy.

According to a small note in their most recent newsletter they intend to introduce an “appeals process”:

The IEDR will shortly begin a consultation with the local internet community on the formation of a formal appeals process.

This formal appeals process would allow persons to:
a) appeal the IEDR’s decision to reject an application for a new .ie domain name
b) appeal an already registered domain name
c) appeal the suspension or deletion of a .ie domain name

We will be circulating a consultation document for your consideration over the coming days

Eventually the IEDR provided more information on their proposal:

The IEDR would like to receive your views on the formation of a formal appeals process.
This formal appeals process would allow persons to:
a) appeal the IEDR’s decision to reject an application for a new .ie domain name
b) appeal an already registered domain name
c) appeal the suspension or deletion of a .ie domain name

We would like to suggest adopting a two stage approach to the process. The purpose of this
approach is to reduce the number of inquiries escalated to a formal appeal and minimise the costs incurred by the appellant and/or the registry. The first stage of this approach would involve the IEDR being given the opportunity to review the appeal internally and respond. Our aim is to address the appellants’ issue wherever possible at this stage, however if this is not possible or the appellant remains dissatisfied with our response they could then choose to initiate the second stage of process by opening a formal appeal which would be brought before an expert/panel of experts for a decision.

Currently, the IEDR receive very few appeals and do not feel that the introduction of a formal
process should increase the number received in any way (see (1) below). The purpose of this
consultation is to ensure that the formal process is structured to reflect the needs and
considerations of the local internet community.

While the idea behind this is obviously inspired by the Nominet DRS and similar solutions there is no way to easily transplant that kind of system into the IE namespace. Other ccTLDs are much more member-driven; the stakeholders have some say in how the organisation is developed and run (AFNIC, Nominet, DENIC etc.,) while IEDR is a private company with zero accountability. The lack of clear and unambiguous rules and processes mean that both registrants (end users) and companies fulfilling the registrar role (there is no such role currently defined) face a very high degree of uncertainty. If any appeals process was to be introduced, it would be a fiasco.

Fundamentally the IE namespace is in serious trouble.

The organisation currently in charge of managing the namespace may have muddled along for the last few years, but it is showing itself to be severely lacking on both technical and non-technical aspects of the ccTLD’s management.

The archaic rules and procedures are stifling development not only of the namespace but of online business in Ireland.

This morning, for example, all public facing web services related to the IE namespace were completely unavailable for a period of approximately two hours. During this period Whois, the API, and all other web services were completely unavailable.

At no time did the registry make any effort to contact its registrars to explain the downtime and when an “explanation” was finally provided it was incredibly vague and unhelpful. A gTLD registry operator has to meet SLA requirements. Why doesn’t this kind of thing exist for a ccTLD?

For a ccTLD registry in a developed country this kind of technical ineptitude is worrying.

So what could, or should, be done?

The main area of contention is in regard to the rules and regulations. At present those rules and regulations are not helping anyone, least of all the user community that the ccTLD is meant to serve. It would make a lot more sense to do away with all registration restrictions apart from maybe an admin contact address restriction.

The IEDR has long argued that its position as a “managed” registry gave it certain advantages, however most registrants do not gain any tangible benefits from these supposed advantages.

With simpler rules there would be less manual intervention required by both the registry operator and the registrars which would improve the turnaround time on new registrations and also help reduce the cost to end users significantly (the average cost at present is approx 25-30 euro before sales tax). The cost that end users pay for a domain registration will always be affected by the amount of manual intervention (if any) that the registrar’s staff has to make to get a domain registered and / or manage it on an ongoing basis.

The other area that needs to be addressed urgently is the total lack of properly defined relations between the registry, registrar and registrant. At present there are no official “registrars”, as the IEDR has not drafted any form of registrar contract. This puts all three sides in a legal minefield and issues can and will arise, although querying this sort of legal issue with the registry will not get a favourable response.

Maybe things will change dramatically if and when Comreg publish their report, however if they don’t then maybe it is time that the management of the registry be put up for public tender or simply redelegated entirely.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog.


By Michele Neylon, MD of Blacknight Solutions

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