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Resolved: the Battle for the .fklands

Falklands domain sorted after six-month delay

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A battle fought on the Falkland Islands may have long-term implications for world peace on the internet.

The islands - boasting a population of just 3,000 - were the setting for a big ownership battle in 1982 between Britain and Argentina which had huge political implications. Their significance appears not to have diminished over time.

On 24 January, the board of directors for internet overseeing organisation ICANN, met to discuss a number of issues, including "Redelegation of .FK (Falkland Islands (Malvinas)". The Falkland Islands has only a tiny number of .fk domains - around 30 - but this has not prevented other countries from fighting over similar territory in the past.

However, while many redelegations are the result of hot disputes, the administrative staff for .fk assured us that the changes they had requested were not controversial. The current admin contact, Gordon Ewing, has retired and his replacement, Tim Cotter, told us he wanted to change the domain information to accurately reflect who should be contacted.

Likewise, the current technical contact, U-NET, is to be replaced by Cable & Wireless. Cable & Wireless has been running the registry for years and both companies had decided it was easier and more logical for C&W to take over so it didn't have to run insignificant changes through a second body.

The changes were requested in March last year, and all parties agreed and signed "a lot of documents" which were then sent to ICANN in June. So, why has it taken ICANN six months to make two agreed, simple changes and why were they put to a board meeting?

The answer, explained ICANN's man-in-Brussels Paul Verhoef, is the new contract being drawn up between the world's countries and ICANN. ICANN was waiting on a letter from the .fk domain authority that stated their commitment to hold talks with ICANN over a new contract between the two. The redelegation request was approved at the next board meeting after this letter was received, Verhoef said.

There is some history to this. ICANN in the past withheld important registry changes - including redelegations - from being enacted by the organisation charged with keeping the technical side of the internet working, IANA. Its aim each time was to force the country registries into signing a contract that recognised ICANN as their ultimate authority. The strong-arm tactics caused a split between the organisation, based in Los Angeles, and a large number of powerful countries around the world.

While it appears that ICANN has repeated the same tactic, Verhoef was at pains to dismiss the previous ICANN contracts and the tension caused by their attempted introduction. Instead, he assured us, the letter required from the Falklands was not legally binding and stated simply that the registry was keen to start discussion over a new agreement between the two.

There are another 10 European country registries that have told ICANN they are keen to start discussions and another 10 in the rest of the world, Verhoef said. ICANN has publicly stated that the new agreements will be a memorandum of understanding rather than an insistence of ICANN's authority. Many see such a contract, if achieved, as a useful tool.

While ICANN's reversion to withholding changes until it gets what it wants will concern some, the tactic could eventually help foster relations between the world's different internet communities and the organisation that sees itself as an essential overseeing body. The proof, as ever, will be in the pudding and what contracts ICANN finally draws up.

ICANN does, however, need to concentrate a little more on after-achievement work. The board meeting's minutes have still to be posted, and IANA has still to make the agreed changes to the .fk registry information. ®

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