Sweden introduces regulation of national top level domain

07 March 2006

Henrik Nilsson

The Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, passed a law on January 25 2006 regulating national top level domains for Sweden on the Internet. The law will come into force on July 1st 2006.

The Swedish national top level domain .se was first delegated in 1986 to the academic and Internet-pioneer in Sweden Björn Eriksen.

Mr Eriksen, supported by his institution The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH), ran the se-domain more or less on his own until the increasing volume of registrations in the mid 1990’s demanded a transfer of the responsibility to a dedicated, professional organisation. The Government and relevant authorities of the day made it clear that they did not see the administration of the se-domain as a job for the public sector.

KTH and the Swedish Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-SE) together with the major ISPs instead set up in 1997 an independent non-profit foundation, The Internet Infrastructure Foundation (IIS). On December 22 1997, IANA through a letter from Jon Postel re-delegated the administration of the se-domain to the IIS.

As the importance to society of the role of domain names and the necessity of maintaining secure operations became clear to public policy and decision makers, Swedish government officials began wondering whether the administration of the se-domain should continue to be run by a private institution and without any specific regulation of its affairs.

A government-sponsored investigation into the se-domain issued a report on March 2000, stating that while not criticising the administration of the se-domain, it recommended that the responsibility for running the domain should be confirmed and regulated in a separate agreement between the government and the IIS, and that two IIS Board Members should be appointed by the relevant ministry.

Subjected to wide-ranging criticism in the following consultation, the proposal was shelved. A new investigation was later launched in 2001, which published a proposal in June 2003 for legislation aimed at regulating the se-domain. A bill based on the proposal was tabled in the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, in June 2005 and passed by parliament in January 2006.

The bill stressed, as had the preparatory investigations, that the se-domain is well run and fulfils its tasks in an efficient, reliable and correct manner. The bill however finds that the State sees a need for tools to review and regulate the present and possible future national top level domains for Sweden.

Scope of regulation

The Top Domain Law (TDL) as it is known does not explicitly recognise any right for IIS to uphold the delegation of the se-domain. Neither does the law contain any provision to prevent the IIS from continuing to do so, or any mechanism for initiating a re-delegation process.
The TDL establishes a requirement to notify the telecom National Regulatory Authority, the PTS, of its operations. The PTS will also be in charge of carrying out the supervisory activities set out in the TDL. In the Swedish tradition regarding regulation of electronic communications, the regulatory requirements are formulated in a general manner and are non-specific. The PTS may sanction its supervisory decisions with administrative fines. Any execution of such fines however requires court approval.

The one potentially far-reaching obligation in the TDL on IIS is the requirement to share a mirror of its address and user data with the supervisory authority. The implicit reason for this back-up facility is to facilitate a possible takeover of the se-domain. It appears that the legislator has presumed this information is all that is necessary for an alternative administration to assume the day-to-day operations. Presumably the existence of the mirror is also meant to provide a powerful incentive for IIS to carry out its operations in a way acceptable to the local Internet community and public policy makers. However, the legislator may have underestimated the operational demands on an organisation with over 400,000 subscribers who also frequently amend their technical data.

Nonetheless, it remains that the IIS is generally perceived to be a dependable and trustworthy institution, where little or no active supervision will be required in the foreseeable future. Given the speed of technological developments, who can say what relevance a national top level domain will have, say, another twenty years from now when the se-domain has doubled its time in existence.