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EU domain jumps final hurdle

Taken five years. Only one more to go

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The .eu domain may finally come alive, five years after its conception, following a meeting this coming Monday.

ICANN will discuss "Delegation of .EU and EURid-ICANN Agreement" at a special board meeting on 21 March and if it gives it the green light then, well, then you might be able to actually buy an .eu domain by April 2006.

The enormous wait for an Internet domain covering Europe have not come thanks to ICANN however. Fay Howard, project manager for .eu, told us that there have been no delays between EURid - the company awarded the contract to sell .eu domains last October - and ICANN. But then ICANN has had a fair amount of notice.

The European Union first decided upon the idea of a new .eu Internet domain in February 2000. A working paper was produced, public comments elicited and the proposal put forward to the European Parliament in July 2000.

At the same time, the EU sent a letter to ICANN asking it to introduce a new domain into the international domain name system. Hopelessly optimistic, it requested that ICANN be prepared to do so by the end of the year.

ICANN was somewhat hesistant, not wishing to be told by the EU what to do, but it did promise it would start a "policy process" and that it would make the matter a "high priority". Incredibly however, the famous ICANN delaying tactics have been so completely outclassed by the EU itself that they have become all but invisible.

The European Parliament received the report in July 2000. Proposed regulation found its way out in December 2000. So far, so good. It wasn't until June 2001 that a "common position" between EU governments was found however. Even this was contentious and it was amended five months later in November 2001.

From this, the framework for the .eu domain was drawn up and the first bit of legislation - 733/2002 - finally put through in April 2002. So far, however, after two years all we had was a document effectively saying a .eu domain was a good idea.

In September, the EU finally got around to asking if anyone was interested in running the registry for .eu. Surprisingly, a few people said yes. It then took another eight months for it to decide on EURid - a consortium of other registries running the Belgian, Italian and Swedish domains.

Only now did negotiations start with EURid over how it was going to run the domain. These negotiations unbelievably took another 17 months. Then, finally, finally, EURid's contract was agreed and on 12 October 2004 regulation 874/2004 was approved.

It was only at this point that EURid was finally able to approach ICANN and ask it to a) introduce .eu into the DNS and b) accept it as the domain's registry.

It has taken ICANN five months from this to a Board meeting that will see the whole thing put to a vote and, if agreed, go through in a matter of weeks:

ICANN approval time: five months
EU approval time: 51 months

Unfortunately, ICANN's international legal affairs lawyer, Theresa Swinehart, told us she couldn't discuss the exact wording of the contract that will be drawn up between ICANN and EURid because it has yet to be approved by the Board, but she assured us it was "similar to other country code domains".

It is still to be seen if the contract will see the appearance of the infamous "memorandum of understanding" that ICANN has been pushing in place of its previous contract that was the source of much controversy and tension.

But don't get too excited, the EU has yet another chance to delay the process still further. After five years of debate it has to still to agree EURid public policy rules. EURid optimistically expects this process to take four months. After which it will then to be ready to roll. After about another four of five months of course.

And then, after the two sunrise periods, both of another two months, where government and companies will be able to take all the good domains, then my friends, then we finally be able to find out if anyone actually wants a .eu domain in the first place. Earliest April 2006.

Isn't bureaucracy a wonderful thing? ®

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