At the Internet Governance Forum this week, we signed an MoU with CENTR, the European association of country-code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs). This seemed like a good opportunity to revisit some of the shared history between our two organisations.
At the end of the 1990s, the ccTLDs in the RIPE region, then often called national TLDs (nTLDs), felt an increasing need to organise themselves. They wanted to exchange operational experiences and organise their positions in the reorganisation of IANA, which eventually led to the establishment of ICANN. However, there was little progress in actually getting this started. RIPE was suggested as a forum, but the RIPE community has always consciously stayed away from domain name governance and coordination. Eventually a few ccTLD people, notably Niall O'Reilly (.ie), Willie Black (.uk) and Boudewijn Nederkoorn (.nl), convinced the RIPE community to help "bootstrap" such an activity. In May 1997 during RIPE 27, a TLD Administrator’s BoF was organised in Dublin.
Sign pointing to RIPE 27 at the Dublin City University
This led to the creation of the RIPE TLD WG, chaired by Niall O’Reilly. The idea behind this WG was “to initiate and enhance coordination of nTLDs within the RIPE geographical area”. It became a huge success with almost universal participation from the region. This shows the amount of trust and convening power that RIPE had established in the first ten years of its existence.
Inevitably some suggested that the RIPE NCC should support this activity. The RIPE community and the RIPE NCC membership remained convinced that they should keep their focus on network operators and Internet number resources. With guidance from Rob Blokzijl, Daniel Karrenberg and the instigators mentioned earlier, the ccTLDs agreed to form their own coordination body, called RIPE CENTR, supported by a neutral "secretariat" very similar to the RIPE NCC but focused on names, not numbers. With this structure in place, the RIPE NCC agreed to help bootstrap the RIPE CENTR secretariat and support CENTR activities for a limited time. These activities were funded by contributions from the ccTLDs.
In January 1998, the RIPE NCC submitted the RIPE CENTR Proposal to the RIPE TLD WG. In the 1998 RIPE NCC Annual Report, we can find evidence of this activity: “The Project was initiated at a meeting of representatives from European TLD registries on March 2 1998. The registries of 36 countries gave their support to the project which was funded on a voluntary basis for 1998. The RIPE NCC was asked to execute the initial activities of the project while a procedure was drawn up to establish CENTR as a separate legal entity.“
For over a year, the RIPE CENTR secretariat was housed inside the RIPE NCC, until it became a legal entity in 1999 and was incorporated in the UK (it later moved to Brussels where it remains today). A number of CENTR meetings and the first CENTR technical workshop were held at the RIPE NCC offices.
In 2000, the TLD WG was closed and all work items were moved to the CENTR Domain Name Registries (DNR) Forum. There was also still a RIPE DNR WG for some time, chaired by Jaap Akkerhuis. In 2004 that WG was merged with the RIPE DNS WG, which Jaap continued chairing until recently.
From these early beginnings, the RIPE NCC and CENTR have continued to work closely on issues concerning the European Internet, notably around capacity building and providing training to policy makers and other stakeholders, and CENTR technical meetings have also been scheduled alongside RIPE meetings. The MoU we signed this week is a formalisation of this long and effective relationship, and seems like the closing of a circle to some of us. You can find more information about the agreement here.