Created in 1998 by the Clinton Administration to ensure the “privatisation” of Internet governance which had been overseen by American universities and research centres up until then, the acronym ICANN is well known to those working in domain names.
And yet, its philosophy, its specific missions and its organisation remain largely unknown. This series of publications will lift the veil of mystery and perhaps help our readers better interact with ICANN.
There are three Supporting Organizations, which each elect two members of the ICANN Board, i.e. 6 out of 20. They provide input and represent the interests of three separate groups:
- IP address managers or Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) through the ASO (Address Supporting Organization)
- Generic TLD managers under the GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organization)
- ccTLD registries, within the ccNSO (Country Code Names Supporting Organization)
We take a detailed look at the missions and structure of each of these Supporting Organizations. This time, the ccNSO.
The ccNSO and its missions
The Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) is the ccTLD registry body within ICANN. Its status is strictly the same as that of the ASO and the GNSO, but the nature of the relationships between ICANN and ccTLD registries results in a certain number of subtleties.
While the members of the ASO are independent from ICANN, which did not bestow their functions on them and which cannot remove them either, the members of the GNSO, at least for the ‘CPH’, are contractually bound to the Californian-based organisation which delegated their TLDs to them or which accredited them as registrars. In extreme cases of breach of contractual undertakings, ICANN has the legal authority to remove their TLDs or their accreditation.
ccTLD registries are somewhere between the two. They are dependent on ICANN from a technical point of view, within the framework of its management of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which we will come back to in a separate article. But ICANN did not delegate their ccTLDs to them (in fact most had already obtained them before its creation) and cannot remove them without the agreement of the sovereign government of the territory in question.
The ccNSO therefore plays the role of a forum for exchanges and discussions between ccTLD registries and allows them to make their voice heard in more general debates. But the policies determined by ICANN in terms of processes, levels of service quality, management of Whois data, etc. are not “binding” on the members of the ccNSO in the same way as they are for those of the GNSO’s CPH.
The missions of the ccNSO as presented on its website reflect this situation:
- The ccNSO provides a platform to nurture consensus, technical cooperation and skill building among ccTLDs and facilitates the development of voluntary best practices for ccTLD managers.
- It is also responsible for developing and recommending global policies to the ICANN Board for a limited set of issues relating to ccTLDs, such as the introduction of Internationalised Domain Name ccTLDs (IDN ccTLDs).
ccTLD registries therefore do not have a say in issues relating to gTLDs, something that can prove problematic when ICANN attempts to impose “best practices” resulting from decisions made within the gNSO on ccTLDs without these ccTLDs having had the possibility to participation in the discussions. The compartmentalisation of stakeholders by nature or by “common interest” (which remains to be proven) makes sense, but it also has its limitations.
The ccNSO and its organisation
The activities of the ccNSO are primarily organised through working groups and committees, like the Strategic and Operational Planning (SOPC) Standing Committee or the Technical Working Group.
The ccNSO is also managed by a Council, the ccNSO Council, which consists of 18 Councillors, 15 elected by ccNSO members and 3 appointed by the ICANN Nominating Committee.
The 15 elected Councillors are comprised of three per ICANN Region. The ccNSO Council thus has the following structure:
|Voting members||No. of seats||% of votes|
|Nominating Committee Appointees||3||17%|
|Total ccNSO Council||18|
It should be noted that the five ICANN regions have a balanced representation in terms of voting rights, whereas in reality they do not carry the same weight in terms of number of ccTLDs or in terms of domain names registered. These ICANN regions also have very different physiologies from traditional geography given that ccTLDs are allocated to the region of the country that controls the territory to which they correspond. So, for example, .pm (Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon) is allocated to the Europe region (instead of North America) as is .ky (Cayman Islands), etc.
The breakdown of ccTLDs by ICANN regions as determined as part of the update of 15 January 2021 is thus as follows:
No. of ccTLDs
We can see that the weight of the regions in terms of voting rights (17% each) does not correspond to their weight in terms of ccTLDs, and that the North America region comes out on top (+14 point difference) while the Europe (-14 pts) and Asia Pacific (-12 pts) regions get the short end of the stick.
This bias is all the more noticeable when we consider the weight of the regions in terms of domain names registered:
|No. of Domain names (M)||%||Difference/Voting rights|
Continuing this line of analysis, Europe is clearly the injured party while Africa and North America are the big winners.
This example illustrates the extent to which ICANN’s governance can sometimes be skewed by a stated desire for “equality” which in fact does not reflect reality. In the case in point, the bias is twofold: allocation of ccTLDs according to political and not geographical criteria, and balance of votes within the ccNSO in notable favour of North America.
Not to mention the potential impact of the regions of origin of the members appointed by the Nominating Committee. At the time of writing of this article (March 2022), two of these members were European and the third Puerto Rican (North America).
Our next article will take a closer look at the Nominating Committee itself, which plays a decisive role in ICANN’s governance.