Corporate Social Responsibility and the DNA of ccTLDs

8 October 2013

 

The last CENTR meeting included a debate on the topic of CSR. Here are some upshots from the discussions.

Last week I attended the 50th General Assembly of CENTR (Council of European National Top Level Domains) the professional association of European ccTLD registries), held in Brussels. It was attended by over 70 representatives of registries, country code Top Level Domain managers; in short the counterparts of Afnic, to whom I shall refer by their favorite acronym: ccTLDs. 

 

The 50th general assembly is obviously an important milestone in the life of this remarkably discrete organization, whose first meeting was held in Paris in 1998. Equally obviously it was an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made and what has made it so successful.

 

This issue is all the more relevant in that the members of CENTR, managers of the celebrated "country codes" such as the .fr or .uk TLDs, are faced with major changes:

  • the launch of new TLDs by ICANN, which will rapidly change the conventional boundaries of the market between country codes and generic TLDs, for example
  • a downward trend in growth, which naturally occurs as the domain name industry matures
  • the uncertain effects of the Snowden case on Internet Governance (on this subject, see the excellent post by my Canadian counterpart Byron Holland, entitled without malice: The Internet as we know it is dead).

 

To discuss what brings us together, the meeting organizers chose the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the idea being that we could highlight the particularly high value of ccTLDs in terms of social responsibility. Many members have programs supporting education, knowledge sharing, public information or environmental compliance. As a result, during the meeting last week we discussed the actions of our Belgian counterpart in favor of computer equipment for schools, a program to teach pupils how to build websites in Sweden, or the development, again by our colleagues at IIS.se, of tools for measuring the quality of broadband service.  

 

Afnic for its part has been taking action since its inception in favor of the development of key skills among its counterparts in developing countries, through its International College. At the Internet Governance Forum scheduled for late October in Bali, CENTR will also host a workshop on the commitment of ccTLDs to serve their community.

 

These commitments clearly distinguish ccTLDs from certain other stakeholders in the industry. However, there was some confusion during the discussions at the 50th General Assembly between two quite different things:

  • The fact that the social responsibility of companies or organizations involves going beyond their basic purpose or legal obligations, by doing things to serve the environment, their employees, local communities or society in general. A number of players in the domain name industry, in addition to ccTLDs, have similar policies.
  • The fact that the specific purpose of an organization such as ours is to provide services of use to the community, and that this includes consulting stakeholders.

 

My own analysis leads me to postulate that what unites ccTLDs across Europe is not a specific commitment in favor of social responsibility, but the fact that this responsibility is integral to our organizations, in the way they are set up, in their very purpose, regardless of the legal structure of the ccTLD. We all have a social purpose, that of the public interest, and are concerned by the consultation and involvement of stakeholders in our decisions.

 

This will not surprise the connoisseurs of the Internet, because that purpose is echoed in the founding RFCs (RFC 1591), which refer to ccTLDs in these terms: These designated authorities are trustees for the delegated domain, and have a duty to serve the community.


In France, it also recalls the recent decision of the State Council, which officially declared the management of the .fr TLD to be the remit of a public service (see the decision for further details). The commitment to create a Support Fund for the Development of the Internet funded by the profits of the .fr TLD is a perfect illustration of our Association’s purpose: "to promote the development of the Internet in France.

 

Over and above standardization or strictly legal issues, that commitment equally reflects a facet of the ccTLD culture. I usually receive each new Afnic employee about two months after their arrival to ask them what has surprised them since their recruitment. In these "discovery reports", one item comes up very frequently: each new recruit is struck by the fact that our work makes sense, that all of our staff know they are serving a collective goal and are not just trying to achieve the objectives of a small group of executives or shareholders. 

 

To sum up, despite a wide variety of structures among the various ccTLDs, social responsibility is part and parcel of our ADN, and I hope we shall never forget that fact for at least the next 50 General Assemblies of the CENTR!

 

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