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Europe annexes Caribbean islands

Caymans in the wrong location for ICANN

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You often hear it said that the Internet is redrawing the map of the world, but little did any of us know that was a literal truth.

Because - at least according to Internet overseer ICANN - 20,000 square miles of Caribbean water and land has been lifted intact, transported 5000 miles east and deposited in the heart of Europe.

Yes, by the power of IP, the Cayman Islands, usually resting comfortably between the Mexican coast and Cuba, is officially part of Europe, and has been since 2003, despite what the atlases say.

How come? Look no further than the Country-code Names Supporting Organisation (ccNSO), one of eight constituencies that make up the policy-making element of ICANN, and which maintains country-specific top-level domains.

The ccNSO recently drew fire from the chairman of Centr, an organisation representing a good proportion of the world's domain name registries. In a blunt letter to ICANN, he took issue with the organisation, dismissing its approach as "a misrepresentation of the realities at hand".

Centr accused ICANN of trying to be a quasi-regulator and said the sovereign Internet-using nations of the world would not accept a Californian private company giving them orders. This, in effect, is what the ccNSO was doing, and its bylaws needed to be changed before Centr would consider joining, the letter stated.

Just 15 per cent of the global country-code top-level domain community has signed up to the ccNSO, Centr argued, so if ICANN wants more legitimacy by winning the support of more of the remaining countries, it will have to change the way the ccNSO works.

But does it exist?

Naturally, we decided to look further into the issue. And most surprising of all was the fact that the ccNSO arguably doesn't actually exist as a legitimate body.

According to ICANN's own bylaws, for the ccNSO to hold elections and hence be able to take part in proceedings "there must be a minimum of 30 members with at least four from each of the five ICANN geographic regions". That rule was laid down in June 2003, and the plan then was to get the ccNSO up and running by October 2003.

Unfortunately, the rule proved a bit of a stickler because everyone in Europe refused to join. Persistently. And they still do. Conference calls between those who did join - mostly from Africa and Asia-Pacific - started 3 September 2003 and continued every week for six weeks, consistently dealing with the fact that no one in Europe would join the ccNSO, making it impossible for the organisation to exist under the terms of its own charter.

The Netherlands joined on 3 September 2003. Then the Czech Republic jumped on board on 23 December 2003. But that was it. None of the other 45 domains in Europe would sign up - despite the fact that Europe currently represents over 60 per cent of all country-code Internet domains.

By 8 September 2003, Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America all had their minimum of four domains. However, North America only had three, and neither Bermuda (.bm) nor Greenland (.gl), St Pierre and Miquelon (.pm), or the United States Minor Outlying Islands (.um) could be persuaded to become the fourth.

So when Puerto Rico, always previously known as a Caribbean island, joined on 5 December it suddenly found itself a part of North America by dint of the fact it is still owned by the US. A slightly faulty logic but one you can see the reasoning behind it.

However, this brand new rule was then suddenly extended to the Cayman Islands, a UK territory albeit with its own Legislative Assembly and Executive Council. The Islands joined up on 21 January 2004, following in the footsteps of neighbours Mexico and Cuba. But unlike those countries, which were assigned to Latin America, the Cayman Islands became an honorary part of Europe.

Even with such judicious fudging, the 47-member, sorry 48-member ccNSO was still one European short. It wasn't until 27 February 2004, when the 2.5 square-mile lump of rock called Gibraltar signed up to the ccNSO, that it had four European members. A day later, the ccNSO was declared a legitimate organisation, four months late and having twice redrawn the map of the world.

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