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A history of developments
in the assigning of
domain names (1997-1996)

Threads Domain name policy
See also
[1999], [1998], 1997-11-10, 10/06, 09/29, 08/25, 08/11, 08/04, 07/28, 07/21, 07/14, 05/08, 04/21, 03/21, 03/09, 03/01, 02/11, 01/11, 1996-12-24, 12/02, 11/12, 10/31, 08/25.

These developments in the naming of domains in 1997 and 1996 are presented in reverse chronological order -- to see the events in the order they happened, work upward from the bottom of this page. This material appeared in slightly different form in the TBTF issues listed at the right.
[ See also 1999-present | 1998 | 1997-1996 ]

IAHC/iPOC plan moves forward under CORE

The Council of Registrars, or CORE, has taken over the work of rejuvenating the domain-naming system from its predecessors, the interim Policy Oversight Committee and the International Ad Hoc Committee. CORE has signed up 86 companies to register people for the seven new top-level domains it expects to activate in March 1998. CORE has signed a contract with Emergent Corp. of San Mateo, CA to design and operate the database for the new TLDs. All of this forward movement is being effected in blithe disregard of the US government's moves to retain influence over Net governance. C|net's Margie Wylie discusses what she perceives as the steep odds facing the CORE plan. She points out the critical event that needs to happen for CORE's seven new domains to appear on the Internet: each one of 13 root server operators has to agree to add seven lines to a data file. The head of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, Jon Postel, is the man who can order them to do so. I'm much more willing than Wylie is to believe that when Postel speaks next March the root operators will comply.

House of Representatives scrutinizes domain naming

The House Science Committee held hearings on DNS reform on 9/25 and 9/30. Larry Irving, representing the Commerce Department, testified that Commerce will release its DNS recommendations by 11/1, based on input collected over the summer. Irving implied that the recommendations will not be entirely consistent with the IAHC plan, now being moved forward by the interim Policy Oversight Committee -- the one approach to DNS reform shaped by substantial input from outside the US. The Science Committee's chairman, Chip Pickering, expressed a desire to keep Internet governance within the United States:

American taxpayers, companies, and government built the
Internet. This is something uniquely American.

What would it mean to subject the necessarily centralized, transnational functions of Internet governance to US laws? A preview is offered by a dispute involving Libya, which came into the public eye during the second day of hearings on 9/30. Jon Postel, a US citizen who operates the International Assigned Numbers Agency under charter from the Federal Networking Council, granted the request of an applicant for authority to subdivide the national domain .LY (Libya). The US has applied unilateral sanctions against Libya, and it is illegal for any US citizen to engage in or to encourage commerce with that north African country. Congressmen fumed about Postel's action and the Treasury Department is reported to be investigating. National interference of this kind is inevitable if one country's government controls inherently transnational resources such as top-level domain names.

The last word has yet to be spoken on US government involvement in domain naming. A staffer on the House Commerce Committee said that that body may try to wrest jurisdiction over the domain issue away from Pickering's Science Committee, on the grounds that domain names belong to the commercial realm.

Domain naming news

Tech Web carries an "unnamed source" story claiming that a new organization now forming will offer an alternative to the iPOC/IAHC plan. The unnamed organization is said to plan a public unveiling within three weeks. I've requested comment on this rumored organization from an iPOC/IAHC insider, but at press time do not have a reply.

Wendy Grossman writes for Scientific American's Cyber View on domain naming concluding that more research is needed to come up with the best way forward. The National Science Foundation, whose exclusive contract with NSI is set to expire in March 1998, is likely to extend that contract for six more months a Commerce Department spokesman said last week.

Network Solutions Inc. is now NSOL -- the company went public last week, despite the blot on its escutcheon of an ongoing Justice Department inquiry. The IPO was lively. The stock, which was offered at $18, opened at $25 and closed its first day at $23.

Comments on domain naming

On 7/1 the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration requested public comments on Internet domain naming, to be submitted by 1997-08-18. Over 300 responses were filed (32 of them on the deadline date). NTIA doesn't make it easy to get an overview of the responses: the Web page presents them sorted by date received, with no index of submitters and no ability to search. The 18 people and organizations who responded non-electronically fared better -- they got indexed by name and their contributions are available by individual URLs, not aggregated with all the other respondants of the day. Coverage by news.com and Wired tends to stress the various and flaky nature of the many contributions, a stark demonstration of why the Internet has evolved on the basis of "rough concensus." In cyberspace concensus doesn't come any other way.

Here are highlights from the thoughtful responses of three serious organizations.

none Policy Oversight Committee -- the body carrying forward the proposals of the International Ad Hoc Committee offered a detailed response. The document gives some insight into the thought behind the positions that emerged in the gTLD Memorandum of Understanding. The POC points out the sheer volume of Internet community input the IAHC considered and worked into its proposals, implicitly calling into question the wisdom of the NTIA's decision to start the comment process all over again.

none Computer Professionals for Social Resopnsibility -- CSPR wants to pull back and allow time for far wider input into the IAHC process. "Whatever its merits, the IAHC process was closed, rushed and unbalanced," the CSPR opines. They believe that there is "no current crisis" needing immediate resolution.

none Electronic Frontier Foundation -- The EFF generally supports the gTLD Memorandum of Understanding, but is not a signatory to it. EFF's views diverge from the IETF position over the question of the balance of rights. EFF regards the IAHC proposal as highly skewed toward the rights of the holders of intellectual property, at the expense of other Net stakeholders. The EFF paper slaps NSI for trying to claim the original top-level domains as their own property.

Policy Oversight Committee to expand

Continuing its stance of responsiveness to community suggestions, the group overseeing the IAHC process to expand the supply of domain names announced last week that it will enlarge its policy board. By the end of 1997 the POC could expand by 3 or 4 members to include representatives from the ISP community and other interested organizations.

A meeting on domain names

Last week all sides in the domain naming fracas met and talked in Washington, DC, at the two-day Forum on Internet Domain Names, convened by the CDT, ITAA, and ISA. Attendees included:

  • (US government) Commerce, FTC, PTO
  • (international) WIPO, ITU
  • (IAHC/POC) Internet Society, Internet Mail Society
  • (domain naming) Network Solutions, Inc.
  • (others) AOL, Netscape, IBM, AT&T, Digital, Bell Atlantic

Internet Week reports a conciliatory tone from both NSI and the Policy Oversight Committee, the group charged with carrying out the IAHC/gTLD-MoU process. ZDnet reaches no particular conclusions. Wired reports that a broad concensus emerged around the IAHC plan with continued participation by NSI. One of the participants disputes this interpretation. Dave Crocker <dcrocker at branenberg dot com>, a member of the original IAHC, said:

I saw much discussion but there was no basis for asserting any particular consensus or lack of it. The event was distinctive by having brought the major players to the same table, for an open airing of views. The opening statements were taken by many to suggest a convergence of positions, primarily due to NSI's indicating a willingness to share .com (when it feels that the new system is reliable enough.) In fact, NSI has made similar statements over a number of months. What contin- ues to be lacking is any real action by NSI to participate directly, though there is some indication that is about to change.

Applications are open under the IAHC plan

Last fall the International Ad Hoc Committee began work to redefine and broaden the process by which domain names are granted. While questions and opposition have arisen, the IAHC process -- which goes now by the ungainly name "gTLD-MoU," for generic top-level domain memorandum of understanding -- continues to move forward. Last Friday the doors opened to applicants who wish to become grantors of domain names. You have until 1997-10-16 to apply, and it will cost you $10,000.

Domain naming straws in the wind

On 7/15, three developments crossed my screen that are indicative of the unsettled state of domain naming on the Net.

one .usa.to registry

An enterprising Netizen has taken advantage of the Tonga registry to set up an exclusive dealership in .usa.to addresses. (Warning: this site dispenses cookies with abandon.) Aaron Brewster, president of Code:NET, Inc., seems to think that customers will be so delighted to be able to get mcdonalds.usa.to, that they won't think to acquire mcdonalds.to instead. Or in fact to acquire biz.to, with a plan to subdivide it and go head-to-head with Code:NET.

two Hijacking the InterNIC

On a shadier note, a proponent of alternate top-level domains has produced a hack that promises to dramatically increase the portion of the Web that recognizes his AlterNIC naming scheme. Eugene Kashpureff sends an artfully malformed response to a standard DNS query from another name server, and the result is hard to distinguish from a virus. Kashpureff is able to spread recognition of his names -- some would say to spread contagion -- to other name servers on the Net in the everyday course of business, and could potentially do so surruptitiously. And there's worse. Over the weekend of 7/12 Kashpureff somehow caused NSI's traffic to be redirected to AlterNIC (he's not saying how he accomplished this) as a protest against NSI's claim to ownership of the .com domain. One poster on a network-operations mailing list opined, "Mr. Kashpureff is in deep doggy doo."

three Set free .org and .net

An InterNIC official is urging regulators to let people apply for .org and .net domain names in commercial contexts, relaxing the once hard-and-fast limitations on the use of these top-level domains.

Justice Department to investigate Network Solutions

NSI informed potential investors on Friday that its operations are under investigation by Federal antitrust agents. The Feds also want information from NSI's parent company, Science Applications International Corp. NSI, currently the monopoly grantor of top-level domain names, plans to go public; it disclosed the pending investigation in papers filed with the SEC. A Justice Department spokesman confirmed that an investigation is under way. Neither Justice nor NSI will speculate on its scope or possible outcome. The investigation clouds still further the future of domain naming on the Net. NSI will lose its monopoly contract from the NSF next March, but has said it will keep control of the top-level domains it currently administers. The plan worked out by the International Ad Hoc Committee to introduce competition to domain naming is in an uncertain state. And on 7/10 an industry group called the Association for Interactive Media convened an "Open Internet Congress" in Washington ostensibly to assure that business has a say in the governance of the Net.

IAHC Memorandum of Understanding signed; opposition swells apace

Last week 57 organizations signed the IAHC's Memorandum of Understanding, an act which should have started the clock for implementing the IAHC's plan to reform the assigning of top-level domain names. But 21 groups and companies that had been expected to sign did not, among them two organizations represented on the IAHC itself. The ITU and the WIPO responded to pressure from the US and the EU and refrained from signing until their member states could consider the issues. The main player behind the IAHC plan, the Internet Society, said on 5/6 that a rules committee is looking into alternatives to two features of the plan that the White House criticized last week. The rules committee will consider ways eliminate a lottery as the means of choosing registrars and will lift the maximum number of registrars, which was set at 28 in the MoU. Critics seized upon these after-the-fact concessions as a sign that the IAHC plan is in retreat.

IAHC domain-naming plan advances as opposition mounts

On 4/8 the Internet Society endorsed the IAHC's plan for expanding the universe of global top-level domains. The plan has also won backing from Digital, AT&T, MCI, and UUnet, as well as the UN, WIPO, WTO, and the ITU. Later this month the IAHC plans to meet in Geneva, under ITU auspices, to sign a memorandum of understanding with some three dozen organizations, including some unnamed European telecomm agencies.

Also on 4/8 the New York Internet company PGP Media (no relation to PGP, Inc.) filed a restraint-of-trade lawsuit against Network Solutions, the current monopoly issuer of global TLDs. PGP media has set up an registry called "name.space" under the renegade Extended Domain Naming System plan (see TBTF for 1997-03-09).

And on 4/14 NSI launched a campaign against the IAHC plan (see also here). Under the IAHC proposal NSI would lose its monopoly control over .com, .org, and .net when its contract with the U.S. government expires in 1998. NSI has released two drafts on the way to its own plan for gTLDs. A draft dated 4/10 called for the FCC to assert interim control over the Internet; this idea was dropped, possibly as a result of public outcry according to Declan McCullagh. The 4/15 draft is quite similar to the eDNS proposal; in fact the head of NSI and the chief proponent of eDNS were both quoted as saying they hoped to come up with a combined proposal soon.

In what may be the most worrisome development for the future of Net self-regulation, both the White House and the OECD have convened task forces to look at issues of Internet naming and numbering. The OECD is expected to declare domain names an issue of critical importance to member countries and to urge that governments set a framework in this area.

Today Declan McCullagh <declan at well dot com> distributed late-breaking news over his fight-censorship mailing list: The European Community has weighed in against the IAHC plan. In a meeting with European domain-name administrators on 4/9 the EC urged them not to go along with the plan. Considerable criticism of the plan was voiced at this meeting, particularly its US-centrism and the lack of time for adequate review and input. You can find details in the Communications Week International article "Europe demands halt to U.S. domain name plans" by Kenneth Cukier. Follow this link for an account of the 4/9 meeting by one of the participants

In another late development, c|net on 4/23 carries news that the National Science Foundation has made an abrupt exit from the domain-name fray, catching the White House by surprise. The NSF offered strong encouragement to the IAHC plan at the expense of the rival plans of NSI and eDNS.

NSF mulls taking back the business of naming domains

Despite the Clinton administration's comforting-sounding policies to keep hands off the Internet -- as enunciated at CFP'97 by keynote speaker Ira Magaziner, a senior advisor to the President -- the government continues to speak with many voices on Net issues. An example is the recent trial balloon floated by the National Science Foundation questioning whether the government should retake the domain-naming business when the current NSI contract expires next year. The question was broached in a confidential report to the NSF's oversight agency. The only online account I have found is this one at Network World's Fusion site -- to view it you will have to sign up for a free account, a lengthy process, and request article #1032.

Power grab in namespace

An outfit calling itself the Enhanced Domain Name System met in Atlanta and decided to challenge the IAHC directly for the stewardship of Internet namespace. The eDNS's chairman, Karl Denninger <karl at mcs dot net>, then sent letters to the chairmen of the IAHC and the IANA suggesting that both organizations apply for the status of Registration Authorities under eDNS.

The organization proposes to propogate an alternate domain-name service, with the root servers run by itself instead of by IANA. There would be less mechanism and red tape for ISPs who want to issue and develop new top-level domains. A total of six ISPs to date have come out in support of the plan, out of the many thousands worldwide. Another supporter is Image Online Design, the company that recently sued IAHC and IANA over the .web domain. If eDNS gains wide support, the result will be a schism of the Internet's name space. In the worst case identical names could be issued by registries on each side of the divide; users would be able to get to some addresses, but not others, depending on which root DNS their ISP consulted.

See the eDNS home page for details on their point of view. Yahoo carried an eDNS press release apparently verbatim. This TechWire page provides a more balanced view. Beyond these pieces press coverage has been slim to nonexistant. Controversy over eDNS has been boiling furiously for weeks in newsgroups and on the IAHC's discussion list -- for example, this archive lists 750 messages since the first of March.

Neither the IAHC nor the IANA has made any public response to the eDNS push. I called IAHC member Dave Crocker <dcrocker at imc dot org> to ask why. He responded "We've been focusing on doing our job. The fact that some people wish independently to do a similar job is unfortunate but seems to me best left outside of our concern. The marketplace will decide." Crocker said he is quite pleased with the technical quality of the work the IAHC has managed to do, on a volunteer basis and under tight time constraints. He added, "Many people don't perceive the complexity of the problems, so to them [our plans] might look overblown" and the simpler-seeming eDNS scheme might appeal.

The registry promoting ".web" sues IANA and IAHC

On Thursday Image Online Design, Inc., filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract against the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority and the ad-hoc committee created by the IANA adn others to rework the way domain names are assigned. You can read coverage of the suit at News.com or browse the text of the suit itself on IOD's site. IOD has been running a registry for names ending in .web under authority granted by the IANA. The company claims that a verbal agreement with the IANA to award it permanent proprietorship of .web was breached when the International Ad Hoc Committee promulgated its final recommendations. Under the IAHC plan, .web would be placed in a lottery along with the six other new top-level domains.

IAHC adds seven top-level domains

The International Ad Hoc Committee has released its final recommendations on expanding the number of top-level domains. Shown below are the seven new "generic top-level domains" or gTLDs that the committee suggests creating, with no further allocations until at least April 1998.

.firm for businesses, or firms
.store for businesses offering goods to purchase
.web for entities emphasizing activities related to the World Wide Web
.arts for entities emphasizing cultural and entertainment activities
.rec for entities emphasizing recreation/entertainment activities
.info for entities providing information services
.nom for those wishing individual or personal nomenclature, e.g. a personal nom de plume
The existing gTLDs are:
.net for entities emphasizing data networking activities, especially with respect to the Internet
.org for not-for-profit entities
.com for businesses or firms of a commercial nature
Up to 28 new domain-name granting agencies are to be selected by lottery from applicants worldwide -- 4 or fewer from each of 7 global regions defined by the World Trade Organization.

The committee also suggests creating trademark-specific name spaces, one each per country code (for example, .tm.us) and one for trademarks of an international scope (.tm.int). The current registrar for the .int top-level domain is urged to delegate .tm.int to an appropriate international body such as the World Intellectual Property Organization. Applicants with a valid trademark (somewhere) would be guaranteed a second-level domain name that includes their trademark -- presumably with some unique, assigned part to the name. IAHC suggests the establishment of a friendly, searchable trademark-based name-finding site, either one per trademark-related TLD or a global one for all.

The Economist magazine in the Feb. 8-14 issue editorializes that the "amateurs" -- including the IAHC and Jon Postel, the man who is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority -- should make way for professionals to settle such matters. Who these professionals would be, what their qualifications, who their nominators, the magazine does not suggest.Dan Kohn <dan at teledesic dot com> opines that The Economist's article unfairly accuses Jon Postel of mismanagement. He notes that the IAHC would love to allow competitive registrations for .com and .org, but the InterNIC has a monopoly until the end of its cooperative agreement with the NSF in March 1998.

IAHC domain-name plan is drawing fire

TechWire reports that opposition is mounting to the draft International Ad Hoc Committee plan for extending the number of top-level domains. Complaints include the 60-day waiting period for new names and the proposed lottery system for choosing the initial suppliers. The president of one Web-design firm, who has invested to develop the unofficial top-level name .web, says he is "unwilling to roll the dice" on this sunk cost. An overall criticism is that the committee's recommendations are unbalanced, favoring large tradename holders at the expense of smaller players -- a charge that is frequently levelled against InterNIC, the current monopoly holder in the granting of top-level names.

A new structure for top-level domain names is proposed

The International Ad Hoc Committee has issued a draft proposal for increasing the supply of, and reducing the contention for, global top-level domains. This article on nando.net provides some background. The draft is open for public review and comment until January 17; the IAHC intends to issue a final document on January 31. The group recommends creating seven new global top-level domains immediately with more to follow. Details are not spelled out in the proposal except to say that

[t]hese new gTLD's will consist of letter strings of three to five letters each. IAHC has also decided that each gTLD should have general, contextual meaning, i.e. the gTLD should suggest a connection with the Internet, with business or with personal uses.

The IAHC recommends the creation of both national and international trademark-related domain-name spaces -- an example might be "...tr.us" -- to accommodate the international nature of some trademarks. It calls for an easy-to-use directory to help users find the Web addresses of particular trademark holders. And it suggests that the use of the under-utilized country domain ".us" be revived and encouraged.

Update on the International Ad Hoc Committee

The IAHC, formed to recommend improvements in the way top-level domain names are granted, has established a mailing list and a Web archive for public discussion of domain-name issues. To subscribe to the mailing list, email iahc-discuss-request@iahc.org with the message: subscribe (the subject is ignored). Traffic on the list has slowed from its initial frenetic pace to something like 25 messages per day.

From the Internet Law Symposium

The law firm of Fenwick & West LLP organized this forum, which should be the first of many if I'm any judge. Your humble correspondent was present today, in "business casual" attire as requested in the invitation, in the company of scores of lawyers who don't know the meaning of the term. The breaking news: the 10-member international task force that will hammer out issues of domain-name contention has been named. Its members include two participants in the Symposium, Sally Abel of Fenwick & West and David Crocker of the Internet Mail Consortium and Brandenburg Consulting. Follow the link for the full roster, along with the Internet Society press release announcing the appointments.

A plan for adding new domains hits a speed bump

The proposal originally floated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority for adding up to 150 more top-level domains has been sidelined by one of the IANA's sponsoring organizations, the Internet Society. The proposal caused "considerable international debate on various aspects... with no consensus," according to the ISOC's CEO. (See here for the full story.) The matter will be referred to a nine-member international panel for resolution.

More top-level international domains are on the way

If you want to put your business on the Internet today your choices for domain names are sorely limited. Effectively you must register in the .com domain, and you must do it through a single source: Network Solutions Inc., the SAIC subsidiary that runs the one and only InterNIC registry. This chokepoint is responsible in part for the proliferation of increasingly fractious trademark / domain-name disputes. At last the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) has a plan -- see here for summary and details -- to foster competition in the business of granting domain names. Bottom line: an undetermined number of new granting authorities will be in business by the end of January 1997, dispensing domain names from an undetermined number of new and existing domains. Service should improve and prices come down.

[ See also 1999-present | 1998 | 1997-1996 ]


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Most recently updated 1999-12-11