Thursday, September 20, 2007

Window on Eurasia: The SU Lives On – on the Internet

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 20 – Even though the international body which sets the rules for the Internet requires that the domain for any country be changed if that country ceases to exist, the dot SU extension created for the Soviet Union has continued to function and now may be set for a dramatic expansion.
At a press conference yesterday on the 17th anniversary of the dot SU domain, scholars, officials and others connected with this part of the Internet described the extension’s unusual history and why they have high hopes for the future – despite the disappearance of the country behind its name (
Aleksei Soldatov, the director of the Kurchatov Institute’s information systems section, told the assembled journalists that the dot SU extension for Soviet web addresses was registered on September 19, 1990, to give Soviet scientists the possibility of sharing information in the same way their Western colleagues were doing.
But when the Soviet Union fell apart a year later, officials in Moscow were faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, the number of sites with this extension was already large and changing them over to a new extension would be difficult. And on the other, international rules required that the Russian Federation come up with a new one.
The compromise reached was that Russian officials blocked any new registrations of websites with the dot SU extension but did not take down any already there or require as the rules specified that the owners of dot SU sites change them to the dot RU extension that the new Russian government had adopted.
That compromise lasted throughout the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, but in the year 2000, the first year of current Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s rule, the Russians effectively decided to flout the international rules and resumed registering dot SU domain sites.
They did, however, take two steps to make their actions less offensive to the international Internet community than this might otherwise have been. First, they dramatically boosted the price of registering on the dot SU domain to approximately 100 US dollars, far more than the cost of doing so with other domains.
And second, they sent a letter to ICANN, the international body supervising domain names, describing what they were doing, noting that despite the high fees, “the growth of the zone dot SU had exceeded all expectations.” When ICANN posted the letter on its site, Moscow officials interpreted that as approval.
Now, according to other Russian officials and scholars present at yesterday’s session, there is growing interest in making the dot SU domain into one where all sites in the Russian language and connected with the Russian language, Russian history, Russian culture, Russian scholarship, and Russian business can be included.
At the end of the press conference, Soldatov was asked whether the Russian government was behind this and whether its institutions were interested in any way in going back to the dot SU domain, given that Moscow is “attempting to position itself as the legal successor of the USSR.”
The information specialist responded that this possibility had been discussed , but in the end, Russian officials decided that government institutions should continue to use the dot RU domain. After all, Soldatov said, “SU is the code of a state which doesn’t exist -- but it is a working code.”

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