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Slovaks Worry About the Future of Their Country's .SK TLD

Ondrej Jombík

Almost every country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) has had some kind of rough and clumsy start at its sunrise. Internet was young, everything was new, and whoever took the national TLD first, got power over it. The situation eventually sorted out, and now most ccTLDs are drama free, well-operated for the benefit of people and the Internet communities in those countries. Unfortunately, not in Slovakia.

Troublesome .SK

DOT SK has been in some kind of trouble since its beginning. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, which at that time operated its own .CS TLD, two new countries were created: Czech Republic with .CZ TLD, and Slovakia with .SK TLD.

Slovakian TLD was managed by a non-profit organization called Eunet Slovakia, seated at the Comenius University. Those were good times. However, certain people decided to rename their company to Eunet Slovakia, s.r.o. (s.r.o. means Ltd., note the almost exact name). Then in 1999 they purposely misguide ICANN to change .SK ownership to this company, which was immediately afterward sold to the foreign investors. ICANN executed delegation record update in good faith, not knowing that ownership was in fact transferred from a non-profit to private business. In effect, .SK was stolen.

As disturbing as this sounds, it continues to be the case. We in Slovakia deal with the consequences every day. I do not want to dig much into the history, as it would be certainly a good topic for a separate article. If you are curious more about this, look at the story by Ondřej Caletka. The story is based on my speech given at the IT17 conference in Prague a few weeks ago.

Now, it is not impossible to run a ccTLD through private ownership if reasonable policies are in place that meet the satisfaction of the government, citizens and the community. This is the case in many countries. Let's look at how it is in Slovakia.

Stuck in the past

The system we operate now was created in 2002 when a major pre-registration occurred. Since then, there have been only fractional changes to this system. Whatever you see on www.sk-nic.sk now, was pretty much what you would have seen 15 years ago. During all this time, SK-NIC was purely focused on its profit. There were no significant changes, no updates, no investments back to TLD. Selling a unique commodity without any competition is indeed a great business.

There is no API, so registrars need to emulate browser clicks to automate domain operations. Also, DNSSEC is missing. Domain changes and transfers are not done online as you would expect, but they need a signed paper document to be sent to SK-NIC for an actual confirmation.

Foreign personnel and companies are forbidden to register .SK, so they had to use local proxy contacts, which is usually a registrar company. As an outcome of those neglected domain rules, we ended up with more than 50% of all .SK registrations having inaccurate owner data on file.

In other words: take any random existing .SK domain, and you have only 50% chance to know who the real domain owner is.

Non-revokable Contract

All this irresponsibility would be a valid reason for looking into alternate solutions for managing .SK. However, it is not that easy. SK-NIC, a.s., as a follow-up company of aforementioned Eunet Slovakia, s.r.o., has a valid contract with the Government of Slovak republic. And such contract is non-revokable. It cannot be terminated without SK-NIC consent. Something like this would definitely be considered blatant operation today, but this agreement is the result of corrupt environment that existed in the wild 90's and early 2000's. At that time, former post-communist Eastern European countries looked more like the wild west than a well-arranged society. Shady businesses and corrupt behavior were common.

While the situation could be considered bad, it gets even worse. People who run SK-NIC now also own the fourth Slovakian cellular phone carrier. They decided to focus on other investments, thus sell SK-NIC to investors. Like if ccTLD operation was some merchandise for sale. Surely, selling ccTLD managing company has attributes of stealthy redelegation, but when we pointed this out earlier this year, ICANN only wished us a good luck dealing with local authorities.

And who is about to be stealthily redelegated for the .SK? One of the world's largest registry service providers, a London-based company CentralNic.

CentralNic Nightmare

CentralNic is a ccTLD nightmare. The way how they operate entrusted ccTLD registries is something no one would like to see in their country. Let's consider two examples:

  • .LA is a TLD of Lao People's Democratic Republic, or simply Laos. It is promoted as TLD for Los Angeles. CentralNic has seized valuable domain names, and those are being sold at the registry website for exorbitant prices, using a backend interface prone to common glitches.
  • .PW TLD belongs to the Republic of Palau. It is marketed as a Professional Web. Registration price and availability are so cheap and easy to get that .PW has became an apparent choice for spammers.

Whatever mess is happening now with the .SK TLD was not planned. The
CentralNic's purchase of SK-NIC stocks was projected to happen at the
beginning of this year, silently and behind the closed doors. Only because information about possible acquisition accidentally leaked from SK-NIC, the Internet community of Slovakia woke up and started fighting for their TLD.

Campaign for .SK

Petition website NašaDoména.sk (OurDomain.sk) was created, demanding to return .SK back to people. The ultimate goal is to establish an independent non-profit organization for .SK management, and release ccTLD from the long-time seizure of a single private company.

There are 17 web hosting companies behind the petition, 13 of TOP 15 .SK registrars, maintaining more than 73% of all registered .SK domains. Along with that, the campaign is supported by major telecommunication companies and Internet service providers, as well as non-profit organizations and local opinion leaders.

It makes the situation a bit difficult to grasp that Slovakian registrar companies are asking so loudly for the change. Currently, they need to employ a bunch of workarounds to deal with the obsolete SK-NIC system. With CentralNic coming, those no longer will be necessary, thus registrars will profit the most from this change. But it has drawbacks. The whole CentralNic investment will need to pay back. Say goodbye to lower domain prices, and say hello to furious profit hunting, backed by questionable business practices such as those mentioned above.

Sometimes you just need to do what is right, regardless of outcome profit or loss. Therefor Slovakian registrars have boarded a prickly journey. They demand a major change, following the proven model from other countries. For example, in nearby Czech Republic, their .CZ is operated by CZ.NIC, a non-profit organization with an open membership for everyone. On top of their regular TLD agenda, they maintain several interesting open-source projects and contribute to national cybersecurity.

Revenge

CentralNic utilizes a huge marketing budget. It is probably no surprise, that biased articles popped online, showing only CentralNic's point of view. This was quite expectable, as there are millions of Euros at stake. Less understandable is, how serious online magazine can publish an unbalanced material without giving the other side any possibility to comment.

As written in those articles, they can label us as a political lobbyist, or business personals, or just naive kids. But they can hardly cover how all this .SK transition is happening without a proper discussion in place. Even against the will of Slovakian people and the community.

By Ondrej Jombík, Managing Director at Platon.net, Chairmain of Slovakia Web Hosting Assoc.
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.sk not about technical but about political? Matej Ridzoň  –  Aug 05, 2017 10:17 AM PST

Looks like, everything about SK domain that is happening right now, is more about money and politics, than about technology and inovation.
I must say, that as IT Technical Support Specialist, SK ccTLD have very bad management and "changes" that are happening right now, are not for community. It is sad, that this non-revokable contract is real, but I hope, this contract will be somehow cancelled.
If community have the rights for use of the domain, why there is no politics for changing or revoking current technical manager of SK domain? Then it is not democracy, but more like oligarchy.
I believe that domain management will soon get into the right hands and will really serve people in the community who use the domain.

Pull the other one Kieren McCarthy  –  Aug 08, 2017 8:29 AM PST

There's no doubt that you feel strongly that .sk has been mismanaged and the sale of the registry provides an opportunity to introduce a multi-stakeholder approach.

And it seems you are getting increasingly upset that the end result you desire is not happening. You probably don't know why. So let me give you a clue.

If you use innuendo, bullying and abuse to try to get your way but the people you are attempting to bully, who you disparage and who you attack are in charge and you have no leverage beyond persuasion, then you are going to fail.

Here's what you could have done:

* Made a case for why it's important that the Slovakian internet community should have more of a say in the running of the registry
* Approach government representatives and make your case in private
* Gone to Centralnic in private and made your case
* Offered to work with the government and registry operator to everyone's benefit
* Talked to the press about why you felt there was an opportunity here to improve Slovakia's registry

Here's what you did:

* Made inaccurate claims about .sk being "stolen" and railed about it
* Accused all previous .sk operators of being corrupt and/or incompetent
* Accused all previous government officials of being corrupt
* Tried to bully the current deputy prime minister into giving you want you wanted
* Attacked him when he tried to meet you halfway
* Repeatedly attempted to damage the reputation of Centralnic by cherry-picking problems
* Turned the issue into a political one by including a new political party into the mix

And when an article was written pointing all this out (https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/07/08/slovaks_ask_government_to_repatriate_sk_internet/) - written by myself - what do you do? Did you?

a) Accept that the incorrect rhetoric was damaging your cause but ask to be heard about why the broader issue was still valid, or
b) Attack the author personally and claim conspiratorially he had been paid by Centralnic while not addressing any of the points?

Yep, it was b). Then, when the author took another look at the issue due to all the anguish and published a second story (https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/07/28/slovaks_claim_purest_intentions_controlling_sk/) that pointed out all the inaccuracies and false claims you were perpetuating, did you?

a) Acknowledge that maybe your approach really wasn't working and it might be time to rethink your strategy of attacking anyone that doesn't buy into your version of history, or
b) Send more unpleasant tweets and write an article on CircleID in which you imply, again, that the story was also somehow paid for by Centralnic and again repeat the false claims that no one outside your pressure group actually believes?

Yep, b) again.

I really think you need to re-evaluate the position you are in and the best way to achieve your end goal. Promoting false information and attacking anyone that questions it may have worked for you in the past in the small Slovakian internet community.

But the reality is that you are having to ask to be given greater say over the running of .sk. And no one is going to want to give it to you if you continue to behave like a petulant mini-Trump.

Hope this is useful. I look forward to not reading your unpleasant response.

Kieren

Hello Kieren,Thank you for reaching me here. Ondrej Jombík  –  Aug 08, 2017 11:36 AM PST

Hello Kieren,

Thank you for reaching me here. I appreciate discussion on this site. At least you have no possibility to Reject or Adjust submitted comments.

All your arguments we already discussed before. You simply do not have full and correct view. You deal month or two with this topic. We, people of Slovakia, suffer for more than 15 years already.

You judge people you have never met. I met all of them, including SK-NIC management, deputy prime minister, etc. If I were you, I will ask few people from the country about their opinion, before I will write statements about them :)

Now, what is wrong that Slovak community wants to reclaim ownership of their TLD? What is so wrong that we want standard registry, smooth operation, transparent behavior, non-corrupt contracts? Why you are fighting so much against this?

I represent significant part of internet community. At general assembly on June 22, 2017, I was elected as a President of Slovak webhosting association. That is 13 of 15 top .SK registrars. This is my mandate. You represent… who? TheRegister? CentralNic? someone else?

Before you say you are an independent journalist, ask yourself if you do all your homework before publishing articles. We provided you with e-mail, phone number (my personal), social media, etc. Yet you still failed to reach for any of our opinion.

That resulted in one-sided unbalanced articles, purely in favor of CentralNic.
Anyone can read that, while it is online.

Given this, I learned you do not really care about our opinion.

Anyway, even if we do not agree with your conclusions, we still appreciate an attention you are giving to our TLD. Thanks!

Ondrej

PS: let's not do Trump-like insults, please

My unsolicited and probably unwanted $0.02 Kevin Murphy  –  Aug 10, 2017 1:23 PM PST

I feel I have to chip in here with a defense, at least partially, of Kieren.

The idea that he would take a bribe from CentralNic, or anyone else, to write a slanted article is laughable. He's been doing this job for the best part of two decades and he's not about to throw his career away for some quick payola.

He's the kind of guy who, if offered some financial incentive to compromise his impartiality, would record the conversation and upload the MP3 under a headline filled with UPPER CASE LETTERS. As would I.

Likewise, it's silly to think that CentralNic would even make such an offer in the first place. It would be reputational suicide, if only for the aforementioned reason. They've been advertising on my news blog (Domain Incite) for years — literally putting food on my table — and have never once asked for any special treatment, even when I write things they probably don't like.

Getting accused of having your ethics bought has long been a sure-fire way to raise the hackles of any reporter. It happens constantly when people don't like what you write. It's tiresome and irritating.

Recently, another way to elicit the same kind of feeling has been to (mis)use the words "fake news".

To be clear: "fake news" is NOT the same as "bad reporting". Bad reporting is when reporters get it wrong by mistake, stupidity, or laziness. Fake news is deliberately fabricated articles that have no basis in reality, designed as either click-bait or to achieve some political end. Nothing The Register has ever published in the 20 years I've been reading it could be considered “fake news”. Not even the stuff I used to write for it ;)

So, I can well understand why a reporter would take it personally, and maybe even start insulting people on Twitter, if it was suggested that he has been pocketed by a commercial interest and/or that he writes "fake news". 

With all that in mind, I must admit I find the original Reg article completely baffling for several reasons, including:

* It seems to me that the Ondrejs make a plausible prima facie argument that .sk at some point used a change of address in the IANA database to mask what was actually possibly a redelegation to a new entity. It's far too late now to worry about what happened in 1999, no matter which side you're on, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss the idea of some creative maneuvering back then out of hand, as the Reg coverage appears to.

* I'm confused why certain views are attributed to the .sk campaigners that they clearly do not hold. Who said they want to stick to the crappy manual back-end? Who said they don't want foreigners to be able to buy .sk domains? Caletka's original post on Medium.com says the exact opposite on both counts. The petition explicitly refers to a desire to move to a new service provider. The sequel Reg article appears to backpedal on these claims, suggesting that the campaigners may not have been being unreasonable to ask for corrections in the first place.

* It's also confusing to me about how Progressive Slovakia fits into all of this. Who are the registrar-affiliated Progressives that stand to benefit that the article refers to? Presumably not all 9,700+ signatories to the petition. So who? Is it just this Truban bloke referenced in the sequel article? When I was doing background for a now-abandoned article last week he was the only one I could find (but I did get a bit flustered by all the unfamiliar Slovak names, maybe I missed some).

I'm fully aware that this comment is neither solicited nor wanted by either side, but sometimes I get so wound up by an online argument I can't help myself but join in and bugger the consequences.

So, sorry in advance and all that. :)

Two cents sounded reasonable Ondrej Jombík  –  Aug 12, 2017 12:13 AM PST

Kevin, thanks for your message. I pretty much agree with everything written, but let me expand certain ideas.

Kieren may or may not be a good journalist. I have not seen his work before, but I have read .SK related articles. And those were very unfortunate. There were probably no bribes involved, but he is from the industry, so maybe he was just trying to help old friends? I really do not know, and I do not want to speculate.

What is important is fact, that we have not been given a possibility to comment on written allegations. That created at least first article seriously unbalanced. Why would a journalist with years of experience did something like this is completely beyond my comprehension.

Maybe this type of journalism is common in UK, and it is just me being too sensitive. I am coming from post-communist country, we had 40 years of manipulated media and lack of freedom. Thus we are very sensitive when it comes to press objectivity and balance.

I still think that Kieren is just badly informed. Otherwise why he would give me advices what I was supposed to do, when that was exactly what I did :)

> Made a case for why it's important that the Slovakian internet community
> should have more of a say in the running of the registry

Written on NasaDomena.sk — now in English language as well

> Approach government representatives and make your case in private

We did. Meeting held at Deputy Prime Minister office on May 11, 2017 10:00
Address: Namestie slobody 1, 81370 Bratislava
Participants: Peter Pellegrini, Patrik Krauspe, Igor Strecko, Ondrej Jombik

> Gone to Centralnic in private and made your case

I did. Meeting held on CNC, a.s. office on June 29, 2017 11:00
Address: Rontgenova 26, 85101 Bratislava
Participants: Miroslav Strecansky, Lubomir Gelo, Ondrej Jombik

> Offered to work with the government and registry operator to everyone's benefit

Offer presented to Mr. Pellegrini several times:
(1) on meeting May 11 (see above)
(2) on meeting Pellegrini with Truban (late May)
(3) on SK domain committee session (May 18)
(4-6) in all of our three letters we sent (they are all available)

> Talked to the press about why you felt there was an opportunity here
> to improve Slovakia's registry

I talked to press, TV and broadcast many times. At the beginning it was constructive. Then situation went worse.

Not sure what we could do better. And if you find one thing we did not so well, think about 100 others we did as suggested.

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Buying or Selling IPv4 Addresses?

Watch this video to discover how ACCELR/8, a transformative trading platform developed by industry veterans Marc Lindsey and Janine Goodman, enables organizations to buy or sell IPv4 blocks as small as /20s.