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MAINTENANCE AND DEVELOPMENT OF .SU TLD: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

This document, compiled by experts of the Foundation's .SU Registry Regulation Committee, provides analysis of major discussions held by the Internet community on the .SU Registry Development Project and updates the Foundation's proposals regarding effective resolution of the existing problems. The document does not make any final conclusions but can serve as a basis for preparation of the Foundation's subsequent decisions in this area. We hope that our analysis of the problems will let the local Internet community conduct a more detailed discussion on the issue and come up with a fair-minded assessment of the Project. The .SU Registry Committee will give thorough consideration to all comments on this document supplied by interested parties.

Background

In 1994, following a change of the SU country code in the ISO 3166 standard, the local Internet community came up with an idea of "indefinitely lasting operation" of the .su top-level domain in the Internet. The idea had never been formalized and was primarily aimed at stepping up domain name registration activities in the newly emerging national domain zones. Since then, users have been taking recourse of the .su domain at their free will, with the domain, as time shows, experiencing a period of self-incited development. During 1995, the number of hosts registered in the .su domain zone doubled, exceeding the 10,000 level. The first attempt to take the situation under control was made in 1996 in connection with the users' rapidly increasing interest in registration of second-level domain names. In April 1996 AO Relcom, MP Demos Plus and RIPN (Russian Institute for Public Networks) came up with joint recommendations to discontinue domain name registration activities in the .su domain zone. In addition, RIPN virtually stopped endorsing registration of second-level domain names in the zone. Yet none of the above measures succeeded in curbing the process of the .su domain's further development. Since 1994, the number of domain names registered in the .su domain has increased nearly tenfold and, according to RIPE NCC statistics, by May 2002 exceeded the 28,000 level. With the users' right to free choice seen as a basic market value, the above fact may be construed as an achievement. Yet in the context of the .su zone's "indefinitely lasting operation", assuming users' voluntary departure from its facilities, self-incited development of the domain zone proves to be fraught with evident contradictions. Unfortunately, in this particular case the questions "who", "why" and "for what purpose" is using the .su zone cannot be treated as issues of a purely technical discussion. The facts speak for themselves - the domain zone continues to develop, defying restrictions specifically set to check its growth. Further uncontrolled development of the .su zone may challenge the principle of Internet stability.

With due regard of the situation that had emerged by 2001, the signatories to the aforementioned 1996 recommendations decided to explore the issue of the .su domain zone's further operation. The task was assigned to a group of experts from the Foundation for Internet Development. Their work resulted in drafting the .su domain development program recently proposed by the Foundation for public consideration. As expected, the initiative elicited both support and criticism of the program. In essence, the discussion focused on one major issue - subsequent transformation of the current concept of .su zone's "indefinitely lasting operation", with the sides involved advocating two opposite views on the problem. The program's opponents de facto argue in favour of setting a deadline for the domain's operation while its supporters object to imposing any time limits. The number of arguments put forward by each of the sides in support of their respective viewpoints is restricted solely by the vigour of the participants' emotions.

The Foundation's position on the issue is well known - the .su top-level domain should be kept in operation because its emergence and evolution was a milestone event in the Internet history. Users may feel secure about the domain's stability in case it continues to evolve as an Internet territorial domain in compliance with the global principles underlying the Internet's current trends of development. It is these principles that offer a civilized solution to the problems confronting the .su zone's further development. In this context, the attitude of the local Internet community becomes the main factor in determining prospects for domain name registration in the .su zone.

Problems arising from restricting registration in the .su domain zone.

In essence, all proposals on restricting registration and/or setting operational deadlines boil down to a suggestion that the .su zone should be shut down. Generally, closure of a domain necessitates resolution of three major problems:

Who shall work out the procedure for the closure?
What approvals are required to authorize the procedure?
Who shall assume responsibility for implementation of the procedure?

So far, neither the Foundation's experts who drafted the domain development program nor their opponents have succeeded in giving sound and concrete answers to the above questions. For all of them, the basic challenge lies in the fact that no procedure has yet been worked out for closing top-level domains in the Internet. The aforementioned 1996 recommendations were in fact the first attempt at developing such a procedure. That initiative, obviously, was not an exactly successful endeavour.

It ought to be mentioned in this respect that the Internet knows two historical cases when domain zones were effectively closed and top-level domains deleted. In both cases, it was primarily good will of the local Internet community and specific technical and, in fact, political circumstances that prompted the move. In the first case, the .zr domain gave way to the .cd domain when the state of Zaire was renamed in 1997. As of July 1997, the .zr domain zone was holding 8 registered hosts. By January 1998, all registered hosts in the .zr domain zone had been removed. The .zr domain was deleted in June 2001. Czechoslovakia's .cs domain offers the other example. From early 1993, when the decision on delegation of the Czech Republic's .cz and Slovakia's .sk domains was officially made, to July 1994, when Prague welcomed the INET-94 conference, the .cs domain zone was holding as many as 2,500 hosts. By October 1994, through the efforts of the local Internet community, all registered entities in the .cs domain zone had been removed and in January 1995 the .cs domain was effectively deleted.

Formally, one might say that over the past decade all users of the .su domain could have been able to adapt their applications and to switch over to other domains. The statistical data, however, show that nothing of the kind has been happening. Regrettably, practical experience of managing the .su zone shows that in some instances it is simply impossible.

At present, there are some quite serious technical problems stemming from the history of the domain's development that stand in the way of closing the .su zone. It is general knowledge that the Internet's stability to a large extent depends on proper operation of the DNS servers. The .su zone happens to accommodate quite a few DNS servers historically registered in the domain. They continue to be responsible for stable performance of the Russian segment of the Internet. There are nearly 5,000 registered domain names in the .ru domain zone, whose performance depends on the .su zone's DNS servers. A number of the .su zone's DNS servers have been historically used to maintain top-level domains. They have also been instrumental in effecting registration in the .com, .net, .org and, since recently, .info and .biz domains, let alone the currently active applications operating in the .su zone proper as well as numerous references to those.

The .su domain zone proved to be one of the Internet's first commercial zones and has been always totally independent of the state. For that reason, the aforementioned issue of the burden of responsibility holds much more than purely theoretical value and in case the zone gets closed may entail compensation of losses incurred by companies, using the .su domain.

Problems Confronting .su Domain Zone Development

Three main questions need to be answered to ensure further maintenance and development of the .su domain.

Is the .su domain zone really in demand?
Can the ISO 3166 experts re-assign the SU code to some other country?
May continued maintenance of the .su domain set a precedent that will cause obstacles in the Internet's developmen
t?

Is the .su domain in demand with the Internet community? Facts and statistics offer the best answer to this question. The domain zone is growing and only sanctions specifically aimed at closing the domain can check that growth. As things stand now, it is evident that the Internet community is bound to take a clear stand on the issue. The Foundation's experts have taken their choice and believe that the option they are proposing is more constructive than any other solution.

It is the type of code reservation in the international ISO 3166 standard (employed for designating countries and territories) that most significantly affects the outlook for continued use of the SU code in the Internet. Technically, the ten experts of the ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency have been in a position to re-assign the SU code to another country since 1997. They have not done so only for common sense reasons, as, due to objective factors, a large number of the standard's applications using this code (the Internet included) are still in operation. Since 1974, the Agency's experts have re-assigned a code of similar magnitude on just one occasion. The currently effective type of code registration does not provide for the code's further application, and it was this stipulation that the aforesaid 1996 recommendations for registration in the .su domain were based on. The Foundation's experts believe that in the final analysis community's interests should always prevail over written instructions. For that reason, the Foundation proposes that the type of the SU code's ISO 3166 reservation should be changed, with the .su domain being granted the status currently enjoyed by the Internet's historically justified exceptions.

In addition to the challenge of securing ISO 3166 reservation of the SU code, there is one more problem pertaining to the .su domain's continued maintenance and development - the problem of creating a historical precedent. Is it proper to set conditions for stable future operation of the .su domain on the one hand and refer to the case as being unique and exceptional on the other? Are we not creating prerequisites for maintaining domains of countries whose codes, for one reason or another, happen to be reserved in ISO 3166? In the opinion of the Foundation's experts, there is good reason to believe that the proposals brought forth by the Foundation will not be instrumental in setting prerequisites for such a historical precedent. Their opinion is based primarily on Resolution [00.75] adopted by the ICANN Board of Directors on 25 September 2000. In accordance with this Resolution, new ccTLD domains in the Internet shall be delegated only in case an appropriate Agreement has been made with the ICANN. It stands to reason that the terms and conditions of "indefinitely lasting operation" of a specific domain, should the latter ever come to existence, may well be coordinated with the local Internet community and duly specified in the aforesaid Agreement.

Conclusion

In its proposals, the Foundation proceeds from the premise that any problem ought to be addressed primarily in the interests of the users, while continued development invariably ensures stability and carries advantages in the technical, economic and information senses. At present, the opponents of the Foundation's program are vastly outnumbered by those who continue to use the domain's facilities. An opinion poll that has been going on in the Internet at www.voxru.net and save.nsk.su since November 2001 features over 50 percent of the votes in favour and only 25 percent against further development of the .su domain. The Foundation notes without prejudice users' complaints about the domain's "increasing commercialization" as well as the opinion expressed by most respondents (63 percent) beleving that the high initial price for registration fails to provide effective protection against cybersquatting. The Foundation's decision to suspend implementation of the program was taken, among other things, with due account of the above factors. The Foundation's experts believe that opinions of the local Internet community should by all means be taken into consideration during preparation of decisions on the program and intend to continue approaching all interested parties in an effort to identify effective solutions to the existing problems. The final choice must be made by the Internet community, in whose interests the .su top-level domain was initially delegated in 1990.

The .SU Registry Regulation Committee
28 May 2002

 

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