ccTLD governance models1 are often a source of confusion and concern. How is it possible that there is no standard governance model for one of the most visible operators of the Domain Name System (DNS)? Why are they different? Which one is the best?
For anyone associated with the ccTLD industry these are not new questions. The topic of ccTLD governance models even made it to the 2005 Tunis agenda for the Information Society² and has been the subject of a series of (slightly outdated but still relevant) OECD reports.
All of these questions and more were answered in an outstanding presentation by Katrina Sataki (former ccNSO Chair, future ICANN Board Member) during a session at ICANN 71 organised by the At-Large Advisory Committee.
The findings and conclusions from the ccNSO research were nicely illustrated by a wide range of case studies from around the world.
Given the different legal frameworks, local customs and differences in local public policies, there really is not a single governance model that would fit more than a few ccTLDs.
This is visible in the company structure of the ccTLD managers. Different regions seem to show a preference for different models, e.g. the most common model in Europe is a dedicated not-for-profit private company whilst in the Latin-American and Carribean region ccTLD managers are often academic institutions.
The different models have different strengths and weaknesses.
For example, government based models are associated with clear responsibilities and rights of registrants and good oversight over the implementation of public interest into the domain name registration policies.
Not-for-profit models are associated with efficiency and the agility to respond to changes.
Governance models that are based on multistakeholder input seem to work best.
Some ccTLDs have carefully balanced boards, others have advisory councils, some are membership based or have oversight, typically by the government.
One thing that all ccTLDs have in common is that they serve their local internet community.
That community is not restricted to its registrants, but includes government agencies, businesses, the telecom industry and internet users who have not registered a domain.
ccTLD managers are a prime example of how diversity leads to the structural strength of the system. There is no single organisational weakness that could impact this important function, they are not interdependent, either financially or technically.
The numerous exchanges between the ccTLD managers - regardless of their structure - in the ccNSO, regional organisations such as CENTR, or even in standards development organisations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, mean that the different models can continuously learn from each other and implement best practices which come more naturally to other models.
The diversity of different models is a feature, not a bug.
1 | The ccNSO defined a ccTLD governance model as a collection of mechanisms, processes and relations of the ccTLD Manager and others, to control and operate the ccTLD.
2 | The Tunis Agenda for the Information Society was a consensus statement of the World Summit on the Information Society, adopted on November 18, 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia. It called for the creation of the Internet Governance Forum and a novel, lightweight, multistakeholder governance structure for the internet.