"Looking at where CENTR and its members are now, we've got every reason to feel proud"
CENTR, the European organisation for ccTLDs, celebrates its twentieth 'birthday' this year. Ahead of the annual CENTR Jamboree, which is currently being hosted in Amsterdam by SIDN, CENTR's General Manager Peter van Roste and our CEO Roelof Meijer looked back on CENTR's first two decades.
You've both been involved with CENTR for a long time. What do you recall about the early years?
Van Roste: "I've worked for CENTR since 2006. My main recollection is that the organisation used to be very defensive back then. People were worried that ICANN might undermine the rights of the ccTLDs. We wanted to protect against that possibility. Things have changed a lot since then, of course." Meijer: "My first contact with CENTR was when I joined SIDN in 2005. I remember well the defensive attitude that Peter describes. An amazing amount of the discussion within CENTR revolved around ICANN. However, I recall various internal issues receiving a fair amount of attention as well. Relocation from the UK to Brussels, for example. It's proved to be a positive move, I think. CENTR now has its HQ in the city where more and more of the decisions that affect its members are made."
Peter van Roste, General Manager CENTR
What do you see as the biggest achievements of CENTR's first two decades?
Van Roste: "Oh, there are quite a few. First, we've been able to raise the profile of an essential but largely unknown industry. There was a time when I was always having to explain to people in Brussels what a registry actually does. That's no longer the case. In fact, the European Parliament now sees us as a knowledge centre. We've also managed to advance the ccTLDs' interests within ICANN. Not simply by adopting a defensive strategy, but by pursuing an increasingly cooperative approach. One final thing I'd like to mention is that we've succeeded in creating a climate where ccTLDs can develop, while also building a platform for information-sharing on the basis of mutual trust. That's quite something, when you consider how diverse CENTR's members are, in terms of size, organisational structure and political circumstances." Meijer: "Yes, I see that as CENTR's biggest achievement too: getting its members to draw together, trust each other, collaborate and exchange knowledge and experience. It took a while, but there's now a general recognition that we aren't rivals; we're organisations with the same core task. It's easier to pick up good ideas from each other: marketing campaigns, registration conditions, governance models, cybersecurity measures. We can all learn from seeing how things are done elsewhere. For example, when we introduced fully numeric .nl domain names some years ago, we made several significant mistakes. It was only later that we discovered that other registries had already made the same mistakes. If we'd shared our plans, we could have avoided various pitfalls."
Roelof Meijer, CEO SIDN
Can you pinpoint any pivotal moments in CENTR's development?
Van Roste: "Two spring to mind. One is when SIDN and Slovenia's Register.si -- one of our biggest member-registries and one of our smallest -- teamed up on information security. It wasn't a huge project, but it showed the community how both sides can benefit from working together. The other is when the idea of extending CENTR's staff team by recruiting a policy advisor and a communications manager was put forward in 2012. The presentation explaining the rationale for the move got a standing ovation from the members. That was a real turning point for CENTR." Meijer: "The first thing I would highlight is professionalisation of CENTR itself. In the period 2005-2006, there was a lot of debate about the organisation's performance. I myself was very critical of the spiralling costs and the lack of accountability. Fortunately, Peter really took things in hand. That enabled people to be confident about the future, and provided a solid foundation for delivering real added value for members. The launch of CENTR Stats is also something that I look back on with a lot of satisfaction. That was a really progressive move, which made a wealth of information readily available about and for members."
How important have CENTR and SIDN been for each other?
Van Roste: "SIDN is very important for CENTR. SIDN has played a central role within CENTR from the start. Completing surveys, hosting meetings, providing people to sit on committees: SIDN is consistently one of the three most active member-registries." Meijer: "Being one of the biggest registries, we feel that we have a responsibility to pull our weight. But it's not just a question of duty; active involvement is in our own interest. We benefit directly from the existence of a strong European domain name industry, with well-organised representation for the registries. Through CENTR, we also get a lot of valuable information and useful feedback from other registries."
What challenges does the future hold?
Van Roste: "There are several things we want to do. We want to run more projects on a collaborative basis, for example. As member-registries become more professional, their needs are changing. We need to align our services with those developments. If we're going to scale up our services, we need to cooperate more with outside organisations, such as RIPE. I'd also like to see more people with vision joining our Board. However, the biggest future challenge is likely to be political. I anticipate a lot of legislative pressure." Meijer: "I agree. European laws such as the GDPR affect all CENTR's members. And we have to expect more legislation with a bearing on our activities in the years ahead. I hope that CENTR can play a more proactive lobbying role. It hasn't been able to do that in the past, because consensus has been hard to find on many key issues. And negotiated compromises have often fallen between two stools. Nowadays, though, there's more mutual trust amongst members; compromise is easier to find, and the Board is willing to adopt a clearer stance. That opens the way for getting more done. The organisation is more mature." Van Roste: "Yes, that's the way I see it too. Our consensus model is very valuable, but we shouldn't let it shackle us. We have to keep working on joint norms and standards. And, after twenty years, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at our constitution."
What do you expect from the Jamboree?
Van Roste: "Well, it'll certainly be well attended. We've never had so many people register. That has to be good. And, as usual, there will be a lot of knowledge exchange. I really hope that we'll see people committing firmly to projects as well. In the last few years, we've had a lot of ideas floated, a lot of talk about things we'd like to do, but not too many tangible projects have got off the ground. I'd like to see a change in that." Meijer: "We'll have a lot to discuss, of course, but I hope we'll take a little time to look back on the last twenty years as well. When you see how far we've come and where we are now, we've got every reason to feel proud. CENTR has delivered a lot of added value, not only for its members, but also for registrants and for the political community. We've achieved a great deal and built a fantastic organisation."